Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney identified “jihadists” as the enemy facing the United States in the Middle East, marking a sharp rhetorical contrast with U.S. defense policy in place since 2001.
“We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the — the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism,” Romney said, highlighting the link between Islam and terrorism.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess … The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the — the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these — these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world,” Romney said.
In contrast, former President George W. Bush labelled the 9/11 attackers “terrorists,” which downplayed their specific connection to a violent Islamic extremist ideology. For the rest of his term, Bush described the U.S. counterattack as a “war on terrorism.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama changed the rhetoric to label the attackers “violent extremists.” Conservative critics of the president said this shift in language further downplayed the role of fundamentalist Islamic preachers and militia commanders in spurring the attacks on U.S. soldiers and diplomats in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Obama’s focus on “violent extremism” has been applauded by U.S.-based Islamic advocacy groups, such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America. These groups argue that terror attacks are not motivated by Islam, even though many terrorists say their attacks are motivated by Islam’s doctrine of jihad. Many Muslims believe jihad to be an inner spiritual struggle, while some extremists insist that it the doctrine requires the waging of war against non-believers.
But the White House’s “Countering Violent Extremism” strategy has also spurred opposition from within the FBI and federal agencies.
Some officials say the “CVE strategy” hinders their efforts to recognize and counter domestic and international Islamic messages that spur terror attacks, and also empowers Islamic groups that seek to isolate and lead Muslim communities in the United States.
Egyptians voted overwhelmingly for Islamist parties in 2011 and 2012. Those parties want to impose their version of “Sharia”, a fundamentalist understanding of Islamic sharply restricts the rights of women and religious minorities. These parties also use bellicose language when referring to Israel, and seek to and curb freedom of speech.
“We have to help these nations generate civil societies,” Romney said, in reference to countries like Egypt and other nations that have seen revolutions during the Arab Spring.
“Civil society” includes the many non-government organizations — churches, charities, schools and sports leagues — that are created by people independent of government.
Under Obama’s leadership, “I see jihadists continue to spread … they’re very strong,” Romney said.