Foreign Policy

The left’s next anti-Trump hit job targets counter-jihadist scholar


The political adage “personnel is policy” is important to keep in mind as we witness a steady drumbeat of attacks by ex-Obama administration officials on pivotal members of the Trump White House.

These critics have already helped claim the scalps of a National Security Advisor and his would-be deputy. Next, they trained their sights on NSC’s Michael Anton. Failing to draw blood, now they are turning their attention to Dr. Sebastian Gorka of the Strategic Initiatives Group.

{mosads}The common thread that binds these figures is that they have ardently defended President Trump’s counter-jihadist agenda, standing at odds with the national security establishment.


On account of such views, Dr. Gorka has been hit with a flurry of negative profiles rife with baseless and unfounded attacks, culminating last week in a New York Times op-ed calling for his head.

The column, penned by Obama administration alums Steven Simon (NSC) and Daniel Benjamin (State), is representative of the broader smear campaign.

Messrs Simon and Benjamin assert that Dr. Gorka has “established a reputation as an ‘ill-informed Islamophobe.’” Nowhere in the piece do the authors justify the allegation of bigotry or subject matter ignorance.

Gorka’s work does not indicate an irrational fear of Islam, but rather a rational interest in understanding what America’s foes claim to believe. Do our national security officials not in fact have a duty to study what animates jihadists? Does taking an enemy at his word make one a bigot? 

Nor do the authors justify the position that Dr. Gorka is ill-informed. They ignore the high marks given to Gorka by some senior military officials based on his briefings on Islamic ideology and its relation to the global jihad. They also ignore Gorka’s well-researched primer, “Defeating Jihad” (Regnery, 2016). In the book, Gorka suggests that America develop a new NSC-68 directed towards countering Islamic supremacism — contra the Obama administration.

Do the authors really believe that Gorka is ill-informed, or is it just that they cast as ill-informed anyone who disagrees with them?

Simon and Benjamin take issue with the fact that Dr. Gorka “derides the notion that Islamic militancy might reflect worldly grievances, like poor governance, repression, poverty and war.”

Indeed, in “Defending Jihad” Gorka writes: “If poverty, lack of education, and political disenfranchisement were the causes of terrorism, then much of India and most of China would be populated by terrorists. But they are not. And this is because terrorism is the violent expression of ideology, not objective conditions. …”

Jihadists assert that jihad is backed by the Islamic canon. The Islamic State calls itself “Islamic” because its leaders believe they have built a caliphate. Are we to assume these words have no meaning — that Islamist theory has no connection to Islamist practice?

President Obama noted in a 2012 interview that “the one organizing principle (in the Middle East) has been Islam.” Polling by the Pew Research Center indicates that the vast majority of denizens in the Middle East wish Islamic law to be the law of the land. Is it unreasonable for Gorka to think Islam is a primary driver in millions of people’s lives?

The NYPD’s groundbreaking report on Islamic radicalization, like some of the scholarly research on Islamic State recruits, dovetails with Gorka’s view, suggesting religious motivation unifies jihadists of all backgrounds, not economic circumstances.

Could it be that Simon and Benjamin are projecting their apparent Western materialism — looking at the world through a grievance-based prism — on those who may not share it?

The authors also take issue with Gorka’s claim of the “systematic subversion of the national security establishment under the banner of inclusivity, cultural awareness and political correctness.” They reply that government has developed analyses on “Islamic militancy” for years.

But just because government produces such assessments does not necessarily mean policymakers apply findings on jihadist ideology to our counter-terror strategy.

The Obama administration explicitly scrubbed religious language from a jihadist’s threat, and purged our national security apparatus of training materials and experts in Islamic ideology and the global jihad.

In June 2016, Senator Ted Cruz held a hearing on what former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy has termed “willful blindness” in government towards this threat. It featured a graphic that singularly illustrates “systematic subversion of the national security establishment:”

Just days ago, President Obama’s under secretary of State for diplomacy and public affairs wrote in an op-ed that while in office he “would not and could not utter” the words “radical Islamic extremism.”

Gorka’s argument would seem to have merit; Simon and Benjamins’ would appear to be a non sequitur.

The authors close their piece as follows: “Declaring a religious war now would only validate the jihadist narrative and force fence-sitters to procure AK-47s.” But Gorka has never called for such a war. Instead, he has said that America must defend itself against a global jihadist movement at war with us.

People of good faith can differ with Gorka on how we define and seek to counter our enemies. But that Gorka’s critics do not wish to honestly engage him on this substance is telling.

If personnel is policy, it should follow that scurrilous attacks on Gorka are really proxy wars on President Trump’s policy itself.

This is the left’s true aim.

Benjamin Weingarten is the Founder & CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and production firm, and a frequent contributor to City Journal, Conservative Review, The Federalist and Newsmax TV. You can follow him at @bhweingarten and subscribe to his newsletter here.

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