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‘This Is Not a War on Terror’

The Washington Post previews a speech that top Obama counterterrorism aide John Brennan will give later this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (I’ll be there to cover it.) It looks like it’ll unite some recent speeches and statements on the administration’s approach to the terrorism challenge — like Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s remarks last week to the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s June address to the Chamber of Commerce, to name two — under the banner of a broad strategy. Here’s Brennan’s gist:

“It needs to be much more than a kinetic effort, an intelligence, law enforcement effort. It has to be much more comprehensive,” said Brennan, who will address the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday. “This is not a ‘war on terror.’ . . . We cannot let the terror prism guide how we’re going to interact and be involved in different parts of the world.”

As The Post reports, the Bush team said a lot of this stuff as well. Back in 2005, for instance:

“It is more than just a military war on terror,” Steven Hadley, the national security adviser, said in a telephone interview.”It’s broader than that. It’s a global struggle against extremism. We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative.”

So it’s on Brennan to explain how this approach is more than saying,* No, no, we mean it this time … *Is there an ideological component? Or does that implicitly overestimate the intellectual force that al-Qaeda possesses and counterproductively links al-Qaeda to a mainstream of Islamic thought? How does Brennan link Afghanistan, where the mission appears to be moving to something beyond counterterrorism, to this effort? Are these changes in policy or changes in branding?

And: how do the Republicans react? If the Obama administration is doing anything, it’s slowly killing the idea of a war on terrorism, which became almost a culture-war issue during the Bush era. “You cannot win a war when you don’t believe you’re fighting one,” President George W. Bush hectored in the days before the 2004 election. Do the Republicans let that one go? Do they say that President Obama’s just being Bush-lite? Do they attack Obama for being weak? Or do they do all these attacks at once and see what sticks?

Oh and by the way: eight years ago today, Bush received at his Crawford ranch a briefing from the CIA titled ‘Bin Ladin Determined To Strike In U.S.’ I’ve been told by the White House that it’s just a coincidence, but quite an resonant parallel even if so. (Thanks to @emptywheel for the reminding tweet.)

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