Think Tank to White House: Define Your Enemy

By Matthew Harwood

"Know your enemy": It's been an axiom of war since Sun Tzu.

Approximately 2,500 years later, a group of counterterrorism and national security experts have tweaked that maxim for a White House they fear is too politically correct for its own good as it fights al Qaeda and its fellow jihadist terrorists. This derivative is better expressed as "Define your enemy."

In a 30-page strategic report for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, report authors J. Scott Carpenter, Matthew Levitt, Steven Simon, and Juan Zarate argue that while the Obama administration has had some successes in addressing violent extremism, it too often fails to call out the specific ideology that spawns terrorist violence.

"Unless government recognizes and articulates clearly the threat posed by the ideology of radical Islamist extremism, its broader whole-of-government efforts will lack strategic focus and will fail to address the varied root causes of domestic and foreign radicalization. It is indeed possible to do this without denigrating the Islamic religion in any way," the study group writes in "Fighting the Ideological Battle: The Missing Link in U.S. Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism" (.pdf).

The White House has complicated matters even more, the report says, by banning words like "jihadist," "Islamist," and "Islamist extremism" from the government's lexicon that accurately describe the ideology the United States fights to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities.

While the authors note that the Obama administration has helped to restore America's image in the Muslim world through public diplomacy and depleted al Qaeda's leadership through military counterinsurgency operations, they argue the administration has failed to address the Islamist ideology that continually produces more violent Islamist militants and terrorists. The authors maintain this is a necessary part of a comprehensive counterterrorism program.


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