President Obama's Anti-Extremism Strategy Too Nuanced For Rep. Peter King

August 03, 2011 4:51 pm ET — Brian Powell

Rep. Peter King

Once again, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has demonstrated that the nuanced strategy of winning hearts and minds is too subtle a weapon for him to comprehend. King today released a highly critical response to the president's newly published national strategy on combating terrorism. While the report highlights the threat posed by al-Qaeda and their targeting of the Muslim-American community, it doesn't stop with radical Islam as King would like. Instead, the report addresses the more generalized threat of "violent extremism" and the need for the government to connect with communities from which disaffected potential terrorists might spawn.

King is cranky for two reasons:  (1) that Obama's report is a little too "politically correct" toward the Muslim-American community, and (2) that Obama has portrayed an "equivalency" between the threats posed by radical Islam and other forms of extremism.

First, the president's strategy, outlined in a document titled Empowering Local Partners To Prevent Violent Extremism In The United States, discusses the multi-pronged effort the administration intends to use in its continuing fight against radicals who threaten the nation's security. The strategy includes community outreach efforts and mentions the necessity of maintaining a cooperative relationship with the Muslim community and being tolerant of those with strong religious convictions.

King, however, is not comfortable with such a touchy-feely approach and would rather the administration use his blunt-instrument style of addressing security threats, saying the report "would've been strengthened by incorporating straight talk."

[W]hile I certainly support community involvement and initiatives, we must ensure that these do not become politically correct feel-good encounters which ignore the threats posed by dangerous individuals in the community.  While we must assure the Muslim-American community that we will address real grievances, we must also remind its leaders that they must demonstrate leadership and cooperation. 

What King can't seem to grasp is that not only is positive engagement with the Muslim-American community essential to unearthing terror plots, official government acts and communications (e.g. congressional hearings) are some of the primary prisms through which potential extremists shape their view of our nation as either tolerant lovers of freedom or oppressive enemies of Islam and non-Western modes of civilization. As The American Prospect's Adam Serwer notes, the report itself is an exercise in such diplomacy:

The strategy articulates much of what we've already heard from the administration's public statements on counterterrorism, but it's also in and of itself part of the strategy. [...]

The aggressive counterterrorism approach taken by the Obama administration has been coupled by a public relations effort to ensure that American Muslims don't feel like they're under siege.

I doubt the administration sees any contradictions in speaking softly and swinging a big stick. Despite criticism from Muslim and civil rights groups, Muslim Americans nevertheless remain among Obama's most steadfast supporters, despite having gone for Bush in 2000. While it might be tempting to fully dismiss the administration's inclusive rhetoric as a smokescreen, what they're saying is that rhetoric is an important part of their counterradicalization strategy.

King's other beef with the report seems to be that it doesn't conform to the same myopic standards of his series of failing investigations exclusively into the Muslim community. He complains that language in the report "suggests some equivalency of threats between al-Qaeda and domestic extremists." It's true that, unlike King's hearings, the president's report focuses largely, but not entirely, on the threat posed by radical Islam. The report notes:

[S]ince the September 11 attacks, we have faced an expanded range of plots and attacks in the United States inspired or directed by al-Qa'ida and its affiliates and adherents as well as other violent extremists. Supporters of these groups and their associated ideologies come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic and religious communities, and areas of the country, making it difficult to predict where violent extremist narratives will resonate. [...]

While we can and must prioritize our efforts, our approach should be enduring and flexible enough to address a variety of current and possible threats. Individuals from a broad array of communities and walks of life in the United States have been radicalized to support or commit acts of ideologically-inspired violence. Any solution that focuses on a single, current form of violent extremism, without regard to other threats, will fail to secure our country and communities. Our threat environment is constantly evolving, which is why we must consistently revisit our priorities and ensure our domestic approach can address multiple styles of violent extremism.

As recent events in Norway and King's own past illustrate, terror threats don't always come in the form of plane-riding Islamic extremists. This is a concept that has been presented to King on more than one occasion, but despite the pressures of reality, he seems content to allow his post-9/11 pre-conceptions about terrorism to languish in a stagnating limbo of prejudice and dismiss any other form of thought as the product of a "vacuous" ideology.