"I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," President Barack Obama said in 2009, "one based on mutual interest and mutual respect." He went on to list the tensions between America and the Muslim world he sought to relieve—yet at the latest meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, he skipped meeting with any of his fellow world leaders for a taping of The View. It's hard to believe those snubbed leaders, who included Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, think the president is actually relieving any tensions in the Middle East.
President Obama doesn't put much time into working the phones or flying to funerals or inviting world leaders for weekends at Camp David, unlike some of his predecessors. He puts more value on the words in a speech—because to him, soaring rhetoric is the end, not the means to an end.
In that speech in Cairo, President Obama never once used the word "terrorism," just as he didn't in his address to the U.N. General Assembly last month. His reluctance to denounce terrorism by name over the last four years is part of a pattern: In 2009, the administration initially labeled the so-called underwear bomber a lone radical, until al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack a few days later. (Remember Janet Napolitano ludicrously saying "the system worked"?) And the administration still maintains that it cannot determine if the suspected Fort Hood shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, was acting as a terrorist when he allegedly killed 13 and injured 32 in 2009, despite being praised afterward as a "hero" by Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric with ties to the 9/11 hijackers.
The White House didn't want to admit that the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya on the anniversary of 9/11 was a terrorist attack, either. At first they condemned the "spontaneous" attack over a "hateful video" and reassured the public that we had a "substantial security presence" in Benghazi. Not only did the president of Libya immediately disagree, saying that the attack was "preplanned, predetermined," but it became clear that there was very little security at the U.S. compound on 9/11. White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has full-time Secret Service protection, yet there were no Marines protecting our ambassador in Benghazi that night.
Most Americans knew immediately that the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist one, and suspected that the underwear bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, and the attempted Times Square car bomber were all terrorists, despite the administration's early denials.
The problem with using the word "terrorist" is that it creates tension. Not only does it acknowledge that there are extremist elements in the Arab world, but it reminds everyone that the United States is vulnerable to attack. The White House doesn't like either of those. Better to disavow hateful videos and lone radicals, and say the system worked.
Or say this: "Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead," as the president does regularly in his stump speeches. Most of us appreciate that bin Laden is gone, but I don't think anyone believes that al Qaeda is down and out.
The administration's tiptoeing around the very real threat of terrorism—part of its "new beginning" with the Muslim world—sends a signal of weakness that has had alarming consequences: dozens of embassies attacked, American flags burned, and American personnel evacuated, while al Qaeda gains weapons and territory in Africa. When Israel rightly voiced fears about Iran getting the nuclear bomb, the president dismissed it as "noise" he'd prefer to "block out."
He's blocking it out, alright. The president has only attended a third of his daily intelligence briefings this year; a National Security Council spokesman said that's because he's "among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet." Really.