Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Sunday that the FBI will delete mentions of ISIS when they release transcripts of the 911 calls Omar Mateen made during his attack on an Orlando nightclub.
When Chuck Todd asked Lynch what was going to be left out of the transcript, she said, “What we’re not going to do is further proclaim this man’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups and further his propaganda.” Lynch told CNN’s Dana Bash that the whitewashing of the terrorist’s ISIS pledge was being done to “avoid revictimizing those who went through this horror.”
This is just the latest in a series of efforts by the Obama administration to downplay ISIS terrorism and other radical Islamist terrorism. Last week, President Obama angrily claimed that correctly identifying radical Islamist terror as radical Islamist terror was silly and wouldn’t improve the Obama administration’s strategy for combatting the threat it poses.
“What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is, none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction.”
The president added: “There’s no magic to the phrase, ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy.”
And in April, the White House edited a video of French President discussing “Islamist terrorism,” later blaming it on a technical glitch when critics complained. Here are four problems with Obama’s approach.
1) If The White House Wants to Downplay ISIS, This Doesn’t Do That
For reasons they haven’t made even remotely clear, members of the Obama administration from the big guy on down have tried to pooh-pooh Islamist terrorism. Byron York catalogued some instances of this in January 2015.
In a January 2014 New Yorker interview, he said the analogy used around the White House to describe the ISIS threat was, “If a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” A May 2013 speech at National Defense University included the line, “Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us.” A 2010 New York Times article said White House officials “have made a point of disassociating Islam from terrorism in public comments, using the phrase ‘violent extremism’ in place of words like ‘jihad’ and ‘Islamic terrorism.'” York noted that the media cheered on such downplaying, saying that Obama could basically put up a “mission accomplished” banner and be done with it. Islamist terrorism was done.
The Obama administration has kept with this strategy not just in the face of Charlie Hebdo, Paris, Brussels, the Kenyan shopping mall, and hotels from Mali to Libya, but also Boston, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, and Orlando.
And as Obama angrily stated last week, refusing to name threats by their actual name is a major part of his counter-terror strategy. And only idiots would think that being truthful about threats would help combat them. Fine! But as Gabriel Malor pointed out, transcript deletion of ISIS is a good example of the Streisand effect. Wikipedia defines that as, “The phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.”
I’m not down with the goal of downplaying ISIS but if that’s your goal, removing information that the public eventually has access to in Florida, and going on talk shows to announce that you’ve deleted countervailing information from the transcript is not a good way to accomplish that goal.
2) It Doesn’t Help Victims
Lynch said they are removing the pledges to ISIS to avoid “revictimizing those who went through this horror.” Oh, come on. The only people horrified by the mere mention of ISIS are in the White House. It’s not like the men and women who barely survived murder at the hands of an ISIS terrorist can handle listening to the entirety of the call they witnessed first hand except for the ISIS pledge. Why would that pose a significant problem? In point of fact, it has seemed to be a cathartic part of the recovery process for these survivors to recount how they have none of the doubt the mainstream media and Democratic politicians have about Mateen’s motivation.
I read one New York Times story where a survivor was quoted:
“He got mad and hung up,” Orlando said. He never heard Mr. Mateen mention gay people — he spoke only about the Islamic State and Syria, and about the damage he still intended to do.
Survivor Patience Carter said:
“But through that conversation with 911, he said that the reason why he was doing this is because he wanted America to stop bombing his country,” she said.
“So the motive is very clear to us who are laying [sic] in our own blood and other people’s blood, who were injured, who were shot — that we knew what his motive was and he wasn’t going to stop killing people until he was killed, until he felt like his message got out there.”
The victims aren’t “revictimized” by acknowledging the reality of the terrorist’s motive. They and their fellow Americans have a right to know what this terrorist said as he murdered 49 clubgoers and injured scores more.
3) Team Obama Treating Words as Magical
In his anti-Trump tirade, President Obama said, “There’s no magic to the phrase, ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy.”
Which is a really weird thing to say about a phrase that he avoids as if it were a magical incantation. Being afraid to speak truthfully about radical Islam is ascribing a certain magic to words!
The Harry Potter series has a character who is so feared that the other characters won’t say his name and call him, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” The name is considered so powerful that, in one book, anyone who utters it can be traced.
Failure to identify radical Islamist terrorism as radical Islamist terrorism — or to acknowledge Islamist terror attacks as Islamist terror attacks — gives the term far more power than it needs to have, and it gives Islamist terrorists an almost magical power over foreign policy discussions in the Obama White House.
Removing these words from the transcript does nothing but fuel the claims that Obama is in denial about Islamist terror or otherwise ill-suited to handle security threats.
4) Telling People to Calm Down Never Works
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote, “Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.” According to Goldberg, he’s well aware that Islam has a serious problem with violent elements. But he thinks that the fight against ISIS is not our battle and that if 49 partygoers are mowed down, that’s just “collateral damage.”
There are many problems with the implementation of the this-not-America’s-problem vision, including that our foreign policy seems designed to aggravate the problem rather than truly avoid it. But let’s set that aside.
Americans have just witnessed their second successful ISIS attack on American soil and the response of the White House is to pooh-pooh ISIS involvement, to change the conversation — again! — into Second Amendment limitations, and to suggest that it’s not as big a deal as people are making it out to be.
Whatever Obama’s actual strategy to counter terror is, the messaging sounds a lot like, “Calm down about ISIS.” And telling people to calm down about something is never a good idea. Telling people to calm down when they have 49 very legitimate reasons not to is even worse.
Dealing with the reality of ISIS and other radical Islamist terrorist organizations by acknowledging their reality and the role they play is not a full strategy for combating them, although it is good groundwork for same. But the Obama administration is doing a horrible job of demonstrating that denialism about same is an even remotely acceptable strategy.