In a nearly 6,000-word address Thursday extending an olive branch to the Muslim world, President Barack Obama managed never to utter the one word that comes to mind most often when many Americans think about Islam: terrorism.
Greg’s response was spot-on: “Now, there may well be a poll somewhere finding that the word most associated with Islam is ‘terrorism.’ Even so, it’s an awfully weird news judgment to lead with a formulation this crass on a day as historic as this one.” (Update: Andrew Perez also has a good item along these lines: “Is ‘terrorism’ really the word that comes to mind when Americans hear ‘Islam’? If that’s true, we can point the blame at a media which never drew the distinction between adherents of Islam and religious extremists. Gerstein’s article doesn’t do much to fix this perception.”
And speaking of crass new judgment, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and Bill Sammon, two of the network’s more embarrassing partisans, went after the same point. Kelly asked her boss, “Not one mention of terror, the war on terror, or terrorism. What do you make of it?” He responded, “Well, I make of it that he has taken us off a war footing as a nation, and it’s now clear. When you give a six-thousand-plus word speech to the Muslim world and you don’t mention terror, terrorist, or terrorism, that’s not an accident.”
It’s sad, in a way. I watched the speech this morning, scrutinizing the content, and recognizing the event as a possible turning point for U.S. relations with Middle East. It was only one speech, but it was an address that has the potential to shape the future in real and important ways. It just never occurred to me that conservatives, within a few hours of the historic speech, would go after the president, while he’s still on foreign soil, for not reaching out to Muslims around the world through use of the “t” word.
Not that it matters, but the president referenced the attacks of 9/11 (three times), “violent extremists” (four times), “violent extremism” (twice), and “al Qaeda” (three times). He also expressed a sentiment that would presumably find favor among his Republican detractors.
“Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I’m aware that there’s still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
“Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
“And that’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists.”
But this, apparently, isn’t good enough for some on the right. It’s reminiscent of the presidential candidate debates from 2007, when Rudy Giuliani would hyperventilate if the Democratic candidates wouldn’t specifically reference the phrase “war on terror.” Only now, it seems slightly more annoying.