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Orlando and the War on Terror

A narrative that treats the U.S. as the unsuspecting victim of attacks by supporters of ISIS is misleading.

July 2, 2016

Credit: Piotr Krzeslak-

The first casualty of War is Truth


The massacre in Orlando triggered a predictable sandstorm of political and pundit opinion on the causes and prevention of these horrible events.

Among other things, Trump blamed Obama, Clinton blamed guns, and Obama blamed the “perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet.”

A parade of psychologists, criminologists, purported experts on Islam and other professional commentators filled U.S. airwaves and print media.

They offered a wide variety of explanations as to why the shooter did what he did, and how we might prevent the next incident.

New policies were advocated – on immigration, gun control, mental health, law enforcement, anti-discrimination, education as well as reaching out to the “good” Muslims.

A telling silence

The one issue that went missing in this debate is the one that the killer himself said motivated him – U.S. armed intervention in the Middle East.

The Orlando killer told 911 that he was doing this because he wanted “Americans to stop bombing his country” (referring to the so-called ‘Islamic state,’ since he is in fact a U.S. native).

On his Facebook site, he posted, “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes, now taste the Islamic state vengeance.”

Similarly, Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter several years ago, told a fellow officer that “we should not be over there.” He further added that Muslims should stand up and fight against the aggressors.

In a note written just before he was captured, Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said that the U.S. government was “killing our innocent civilians.” As a Muslim, he wrote, “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished.”

A question that must be asked

This is not to excuse murderers. Nor to argue against the need to change our preposterously permissive gun culture, beginning with an immediate ban on the sale and resale of military-style weapons.

Nor is it to say that we do not need better ways to deal with mental illness in America and identify potentially violent people.

Rather, we must ask why there is almost total silence about the one obvious piece to the puzzle of why they do it. The reason for avoiding the topic seems clear.

It might lead to questions about the wars in the Middle East that we Americans – both those who lead and those who are led – would rather not address.

Indeed, while they criticize each other on tactics, Obama, Clinton and Trump, a majority of the U.S. Congress and the media agree that the wars in Afghanistan Iraq and Syria – now spread to Yemen, Libya, Somalia — must continue.

No end in sight

We Americans have been at this for 15 years and, except for the blustering Trump — who promises he can make a quick end to every problem America faces — virtually the entire American policy class, military and civilian, agrees that after 15 years there still is no end in sight.

If so, as Donald Trump has established, you don’t have to be a genius to predict that what happened in Orlando, Fort Hood, and Boston will happen again.

Yet, our national narrative is that domestic Muslim terrorism has nothing to do with “us.”

Instead, we convince ourselves that it’s all about “them” – sick people mesmerized by ISIS’s devilish use of social media.

How not to respond

Trump, in his more coherent moments, says we should just keep “them” (only the “bad ones”) out, notwithstanding the fact that the Orlando and Fort Hood assassins were native born Americans. Obama and Clinton warn against ethnic or religious profiling.

But while there is a wide moral space between their message of liberal tolerance and Trump’s ugly racism, the logic of Obama and Clinton also leads to the conclusion that Muslims are the problem.

The Democrats answer is stronger law enforcement and winning the hearts and mind of alienated Muslim-Americans.

Thus, the national security apparatus will need more money and power to spy, arrest and incarcerate people on the basis of a presumed intention to commit a crime.

Since we still don’t know how to tell a law-abiding Muslim – or any other citizen — from one who intends mass murder, we can expect substantial collateral civil liberties damage along the way with such a strategy.

The domestic hearts-and-minds strategy apparently means having friendly Muslim clerics teach a non-violent interpretation of the Koran to their angry brethren. This implies that to this point they have not been doing what official America has defined as their job.

Obviously, under this line of thinking, they will therefore “need” government programs — with the appropriate consultants, training centers and software, plus overhead — to help them do it.

In addition, Democrats would like Muslims to police their own communities, e.g., turning in the names of relatives and neighbors who seem suspicious – or whom they just may not like.

Endless war

Perhaps we might have more success with this hearts-and-minds campaign than we have had in the past, but it will still not stem the worldwide tide of Muslim anger over what we are doing in the Middle East.

Whatever we think we are doing, Muslims know we are destroying their homes and killing their people. So, as long as we are committed to endless war there, we can expect endless episodes of terrorism here. And with each one, we will take another step down the road to a police state.

The majority of American may of course believe that the war is worth this cost. But if so, respect for our democracy demands that we march down that path with our eyes open, and stop lying to ourselves about its savage consequences – not just there, but here.


Orlando shooting: The killer said that the US intervention in the Middle East motivated him.

The American policy class, military and civilian, agrees that after 15 years there still is no end in sight.

Terrorist attacks are foreign imports, but also a result of our own policies.