Obama official takes shots at Bush’s words

August 6, 2009

President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser on Thursday offered a pointed critique of several of former President George W. Bush’s catch phrases on terrorism.

USA/Veteran spy John Brennan, once in line to head the Central Intelligence Agency under Obama and apparently no great fan of the Bush White House, gave a lengthy speech outlining Obama’s strategy for fighting terrorism which attempts to go beyond, using military might to include economic and social policies.

Brennan criticized Bush’s moniker “global war on terror” as playing into the “warped narrative that al Qaeda propagates.” He added that it “plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world.”

He also had choice words for Bush regularly describing the terrorism battle as one against “jihadists,” saying that the term has a legitimate use (purifying oneself or waging a holy struggle for a moral goal) and using it “risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.”

Officials from the Obama and Bush administrations have been trading volleys for months about each other’s policies, though for the most part the two presidents have stayed above the fray.

One other phrase that Bush used two months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington was about countries being involved in or distancing themselves from the coalition that went into Afghanistan.

“Over time it’s going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity, that you — either with us or you’re against us in the fight against terror,” Bush said during a news availability with then French President Jacques Chirac.

That drew another rebuke from Brennan, who said that the Obama administration was reaching out instead of issuing sweeping warnings.

“Rather than looking at allies and other nations through the narrow prism of terrorism—whether they are with us or against us—the administration is now engaging other countries and peoples across a broader range of areas,” he said.

Brennan did acknowledge that it was eight years ago this very day that he was reading intelligence that warned Osama bin Laden was determined to strike inside the United States, “but our government was unable to prevent the worst terrorist attack in American history that would occur on 9/11.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

– Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst (Brennan walks outside the White House earlier this year)


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How does the phrase War on Terror imply that the US is at war with the world? Unless you assume that the whole world supports terrorism, this guy is just bashing Bush because that is what the Obama administration does the best. Never mind that for seven years al Queda was unable to attack the US even once, despite what happened in Spain, England and other parts of the world.

Posted by Frank Stagg | Report as abusive

John Brennan makes a lot more sense than John Bolton!

Posted by Rowland Scherman | Report as abusive

The Bush administration was the most idiotic group of warmongers the US has put in power for decades. Thank Og they’re gone. Those people (especially Dick ‘head’ Cheney) did more damage to the reputation, credibility, and morals of the US than anyone in history. I sincerely hope that someday Bush, Cheney, and Rummie will be brought to the justice they deserve.

Posted by Al Gere | Report as abusive

It seems to me that the Obama administration should apply some of their sensitivity in communicating with the American people about the details in their health care proposal. How about dropping the “they are either with us or against us…” approach and listen to the people. More attention to listening and less to collecting “fishy” data would go a long way to bridging this widening gap between the administration and the people.

Posted by PJohnson | Report as abusive

“The Bush administration was the most idiotic group of warmongers the US has put in power for decades” and they infringed upon the freedoms of American Citizens.

Posted by John Doe | Report as abusive

Thank Og?
What a joke, you can’t write God? Who the hell is Og?
Thank GOD that Bush was president on 9/11 and not Obama.
And what about Afghnistan? Is that not war mongering?

Posted by Frank Stagg | Report as abusive

It’s always easier said then done, especially when you are from a sideline and aftermath.
And that is exactly what Obama’s administration has been doing all along, with every single policy that he’s pulling out from his rabbit hat.
Just take a look at “cash for clunkers”, it’s a joke!
The “Health reform” is a total disaster!
If John Brennan has access to those intelligence back then and he didn’t do anything about it, he has no right to criticize anyone

Posted by winger | Report as abusive

What Mr. Brennan is saying is that this idea of a Global War on Terrorism puts at us odds with those who are against such a war. What that means is that if a country is against us in our so-called global war on terror, that we will also be against them. Just paraphrasing Bush’s own words here.

Posted by Bruce Bean | Report as abusive

@frank stagg

The quoted text says includes the word “global” hence “global war on terror” meaning the battlefield, in terrorists minds, spans all countries.

Posted by Sluffy McMoots | Report as abusive

I thought Obama was elected, not Bill Clinton. He is going to bribe corrupt governments with what money? When we are attacked again, and we will be, I guess it will be Bush’s fault again. Appeasement does not work. Clinton tried and we were attacked all over the world because Clinton, like Obama are weak. We lost many people in NYC because Clinton was busy with a fat intern instead of looking after the country. I just hope there is a bleeding heart parade celebrating the almighty Obama going on when the next attack happens

Posted by nookly23 | Report as abusive

So the brilliant Brennan who is mocking the Bush Administration was part of the Clinton Administration inaction committee on Terrorism? The same guy who had all the alerts smacking him in the face for months but ignored them is now a mastermind at counter-terrorism? You folks on the looney left have a lot of nerve critizing President Bush who took us through some of the hardest times for a country and did it very well. You just can’t stand it that the US showed its power for once and didn’t hide behind diplomacy like the liberal left loves to do while binding the hands of the military and law enforcement.

Posted by Mark Johnson | Report as abusive

An earlier poster asked “How does the phrase War on Terror imply that the US is at war with the world?”

It does not – but “Global war on terror” might easily be construed as the US wanting to wage war around the globe. Even if it is not construed as such, it is easy for terrorists to use such language from the US to stir up passions among uneducated masses. That is just counterproductive.

Posted by fromnj | Report as abusive

Brennan’s points are fair and balanced, a welcome change from 8 years of cowboy rhetoric. Cheney was wrong when he claimed that the Bush administration somehow prevented a second big terrorist attack in NYC, because the first Big One was in 1993 when the bad guys tried to knock down the WTC with a truck bomb. Smart engineering prevented the towers from toppling in ’93, but despite warnings Bush failed to prevent 9-11-01, which WAS the *second* attack on the same buildings (the former veep’s pleading notwithstanding). Bush/Cheney *might* be able to lamely claim to have prevented a third attack, but they’ve yet to provide the proof. It is great that the US is back to earning the title beacon of freedom, by actually listening with respect to our fellow nations; only then can we expect the same in return. Brennan appears ready to move forward in this respect.

Posted by Chuck | Report as abusive

There was never a war on terrorism in the sense of the word. It was a war “against Islamist fascists,” as George Bush quoted above, or against “jihadists” according to his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and there was a war on “terrorist associated with Al Qaeda,” an umbrella term that included everybody around the globe that hated the U.S. gunboat diplomacy. Therefore, the term “terrorism” in general imply to Muslims, and we had the Black Panthers and Malcom X here, Russians had theirs in in Chechnya, and China has theirs in Western China, the Uighurs. Actually, Obama grew up with militant Muslims in South Chicago and probably shared most of their militant views, but he chose moderation because militancy would not have taken him to the white house.

Terrorism has its roots in Colonialism and Gun Boat diplomacy. Locals couldn’t fight the foreign well-armed invaders and resulted in hit and run tactics to scare them off. In Kenya, the Mau Mau advertised that every foreign missionary who was captured was killed and eaten. And that surely scared the hell off on the British expeditionary forces. Then the high end explosives began to proliferate, and things became, well, more deadly. Then came suicide bombers who carried the explosive power right on the target, and terrorism became an opposing force to reckon with. When Vietnamese commandos loaded with explosives smashed their bodies on Dien Bien Phu, the French colonialist started running. The end of the French colonialism in Indochina was achieved with suicide bombing that demoralized the French forces.

Obama cannot end the war on terrorism because as long as the U.S. impose governments on people[Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan], or overthrow elected governments [Zelaya, Honduras] and has ongoing sabotage policies against anti-American elected governments, like Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, etc., terrorism will be there for the U.S. As the U.S. congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul said during the national republican presidential debate: “We have created terrorism; why there is no terrorism against Switzerland?, on quote. Obama had better listen to his former pastor, The Revered Jeremiah Wright who also think like Ron Paul: “The chickens have come home to roost,” he said after 9/11. We can end terrorism and eliminate all our enemies around the globe, but only if we respect the sovereignty of other people, as Switzerland does.
Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by Nikos Retsos | Report as abusive

can we assume that clinton bringing the two journalists home is considered a tremendous vindication of obama,s “why can,t we just get along”policy?it is remarkable how convenient it is to over look stuff when it suits.what about the years clinton gave to them bribes to go away,but were coming back for more when the money was spent.bush was in office just two months when 911 occurred,bushes fault not clintons,the two months does not apply in this case,but 8 months for obama and unemployment is not his fault it is bushes fault.the double standard democrats,to vote in the presidential election,no ID required ,but now town hall meeting they are preparing to make people produce drivers license.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

While I was (and am) a supporter of most of the Bush policies regarding terrorism, I think that Brennan is correct in the points he makes. Brennan has 20/20 hindsight. In the days immediately following 9/11 it was not so clear just what should be done, and I credit Bush for using a strong offense–which was desperately needed–and for not putting up with the inertia dominating Europe. Only England showed resolve and willingness to act!

Still, it was dicey then and remains so now to clearly differentiate between foes and those who merely call the U.S. “the Great Satan,” but don’t blow up civilians.

Brennan’s points are well made, if a bit opportunist. In other words, they would be just as valid if he said “it is time now, in light of what we have learned and experienced, to change our terminology…,” without referring to Bush. But of course the froth-at-the-mouth anti-Bush and anti-Cheney crowd, who can’t even refer to either one without vulgarity, will want to vilify me for suggesting that anyone should ever want to pass up such an opportunity.

Posted by Danthrax | Report as abusive

Re: Brian Lee’s post:

Bush was in office just 2 months when 9/11 occured? How do you figure that? He was in office for 8 months prior to 9/11, during which he dismissed the urgent warnings of national security professionals regarding the threat of terrorism, preferring instead to focus on an imagined threat from Iraq.

Posted by Joy DeMoss | Report as abusive

Brian Lee- Bush was in office 8 months before Sept 11, 2001, which is currently less time than Obama’s been in office.

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

Why do the Obama administration and Obamaholics constantly play the blame game on Bush/Cheney when domestic policy isn’t going well? I thought Obama was supposed to be the “healer”, but instead his administration has created even deeper rifts in America. Also, Obama should not allow his presidency to be compared to Bush’s. This comparison will only hurt him in the long run.

Posted by Patrick E. | Report as abusive

i love it whem sickening right wingers refer to how safe bush and cheney kept us. they seem to forget 9-11 happened on their watch.JERKS!

Posted by bruce | Report as abusive

Bribing corrupt governments..
Oh you must be talking for example about Iran contra, when Ronnie “I spoke the truth although the facts proved I did not” Reagan bribed Iran with weapons. Or when his administration decided it was also wise to give both Saddam and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (predecessors of the Taliban) enormous amounts of weapons. Of course in Conservative Ideology those events are cynically judged by a different standard.

You naughty conservatives… Always screwing up and blaming own sins and mistakes on “the liberals”. *Evil..;)*

Posted by Whatever | Report as abusive

Words DO matter.
Another example is the use of the word “crusade” by the Bush administration. “Crusade” has the about the same meaning for muslims as “holocaust” has for Jews (since muslims were the target of the historical crusades).
Bush and his wordsmith Karl Rove were undoubtedly smart enough to know this, so why did they do it anyway?

You make the call. Conservatives?

Posted by Whatever | Report as abusive

After the terrorists knock down the Washington Monument or Golden Gate Bridge or other landmarks of interest, I plan to walk every street in my neighborhood and hold up a sign which reads, BUSH TOLD YOU BUT YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE! WE must stand up against these demons or they will be living in our backyards.

Posted by Jim Hogsett | Report as abusive

Can we see a new policy developing from obama regarding afghanistan?during the campaign he said iraq was not a war that we should have fought.but he would pursue the battle in afghanistan because that was the legitimate battle field.this week end his advisers have been hinting that we should have no obligation to try to repeat what was the objective in iraq,to build up their army and help them to develop a democratic electoral process.Are they suggesting our objective should only be to pursue bin laden,then pull out.this sounds to me that the resolve is going away as the conflict intensifies,and that america will again leave when the mission is not complete and as a result there will be another blood bath for the people who were foolish enough to trust our resolve.The taliban sense that there might not be a lot of fight in obama so that is the reason that there has been a surge from them.Gates and the generals report on the war should have been released but the delay in making it seem ironical to me.leaving a vacuum over there will allow a resurgence of potential terrorist training camps to start again.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Bush was in office only two months when 9-11 occurred?
Don’t you mean bush had been on vacation only two months when 9-11 occurred?

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

thanks for reading my posting getplaning that,s an encouragement,hope some of it is sinking in. Unlike this Brennan guy who seems to have a different slant to suit the president in power.nice to see reuters printing a posting for their liberal sweetheart that would with out any question have resulted with “INVALID”for me or TC,but whether you get this or not we will press on as churchill said “we will fight you on the beaches” signing off from cash strapped CA.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive