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The Obama Administration’s Complicated Relationship With Merely Using The Word Terrorism

The president’s address Sunday night wasn’t memorable, but it was the first time that the Obama White House referred to the shootings at Fort Hood and Chattanooga as acts of terrorism. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean this administration has referred to such incidents of terrorism as such when they first tragically occurred. In many ways, the Obama administration has shown an overt hesitancy to label certain attacks terrorism.


When Major Nidal Hassan killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in November of 2009, the administration–and the army–was reluctant to call this attack an act of terrorism (via NYT):

“We have not found any links to terrorism, or any international or domestic extremist groups at this time,” Chris Grey, a spokesman for the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, told reporters.

That simple word has a complex and politically charged past at Fort Hood. Army officials have never called the first Fort Hood mass shooting, in November 2009 — when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shot dozens of soldiers in what he said was an attempt to protect Taliban leaders in Afghanistan from American troops — an act of terrorism.


Both the Army and the White House have been reluctant to call the 2009 shooting terrorism, although it was called an act of terror in a 2011 Senate report and it has an official ID number in the Global Terrorism Database.

It was only until the president’s remarks at the National Defense University in 2013 that he regarded the Fort Hood shooting as an event influenced by Islamic extremism:

[F]inally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, a plane flying into a building in Texas, or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our history. Deranged or alienated individuals -- often U.S. citizens or legal residents -- can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. And that pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood and the bombing of the Boston Marathon.


Hassan has been sentenced to death for his crimes. He has since sent a letter to the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wishing to become a citizen of ISIS.

"It would be an honor for any believer to be an obedient citizen soldier to a people and its leader who don't compromise the religion of All-Mighty Allah to get along with the disbelievers,” he wrote.

The shooting was labeled an incident of “workplace violence.”

In December of 2009, the president did call Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up an airliner by igniting explosives in his underwear an “act of terrorism.”

Thanks to the quick and heroic actions of passengers and crew, the suspect was immediately subdued, the fire was put out, and the plane landed safely. The suspect is now in custody and had been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. And a full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.

Abdulmutallab was radicalized at University College London in the United Kingdom.

In September 2012, the coordinated terrorist attack by al-Qaeda on our compound in Benghazi led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. With the presidential election in mind, the Obama administration scrambled to find talking points to prove the attack was “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.” I don’t need to reiterate how this was patently false, though, politically, the administration had been touting the mission the killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, infamously saying, “al-Qaeda is on the run and Osama bin Laden is dead” on the stump. They needed something to avoid falling into a debate on an issue, where Democrats poll poorly against Republicans.


In July of 2015, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez went on a shooting spree at military recruitment centers, killing four Marines and a sailor. He had previously called Muslims who waged jihad “the best human beings that ever lived,” according to Stars and Stripes. He also had audio recordings of Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda recruiter who Hassan admired, in his possession as well. The president didn’t use the word “terrorism” in his initial statement on the shootings, though he clarified that position in his address Sunday night.

More than five months after attacks on two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., left four Marines and a sailor dead, federal investigators still have not determined whether the attack was terrorism - and it's financially costing the families of those who died, as Purple Heart awards hang in the balance.

The July 16 attack killed Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40; Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 35; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist; Lance Cpl. Squire D. "Skip" Wells, 21; and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26. Other service members and a Chattanooga police officer also were wounded by Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, a naturalized U.S. citizen, who was born in Kuwait. The attack was carried out at the Chattanooga Naval Reserve Center and a recruiting station a few miles away.

And, finally, Obama's December 6 address:

Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase. As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino. And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.

For seven years, I’ve confronted this evolving threat each morning in my intelligence briefing.


Well, as Justin wrote yesterday, the president doesn’t really show up for those briefings, which will probably exacerbate his already awful numbers regarding fighting terrorism, ISIS, and his refugee policy. When Obama gave the order to kill Osama, aggressively go after terrorists via drone strikes, and create secret kill lists­–there were some who thought this could be the end of the era of the soft Democrat. The typical over-educated pie-in-the-sky liberal that was never trusted on foreign policy and national security issues. Democrats can thank George McGovern’s horrific 1972 campaign for that legacy. With Obama, nothing has changed regarding the aura of weakness the left shows abroad.

We drew various red lines in Syria, which were crossed when chemical weapons were used in 2013. We had a rather effete response to Russian aggression in Ukraine that has led to the annexation of Crimea. The Obama administration is allegedly cooking the intelligence on ISIS to fit their narrative, and we have an Iran nuclear deal that was made to stall a military option from being deployed while Obama sat in the Oval Office. Don’t look now, but they just test fired a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload. I guess that’s what happens when the other side doesn’t even sign the agreement.


Members of the media are beginning to call the president on his awful ISIS strategy that simply hasn’t worked. The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss tore apart the president’s address Sunday night, claiming that we’ve been dealing with Islamic extremism for nearly a decade, and contrary to what the president said; their tactics haven’t changed. They’re certainly not contained, with affiliates being established in the Sinai Peninsula, Libya, and Afghanistan. They have launched five major terrorist attacks, with three striking NATO countries. We have been bombing them, but 75 percent of our aircraft payloads remain unfired upon and return to base.

This president has an extensive track record of failure (and Guy has a brutal post on that here), and now a history of hesitancy of calling terrorist attacks exactly that–terrorism. This president isn’t serious at best, or simply doesn’t get it at worst.

If you can’t even define what something is, or know it when you see the intelligence, how can you possibly come up with a strategy to fight it. Hence, this default professor role Obama’s taken, which is rapidly becoming old for pretty much everyone.

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