Brennan Names Al-Qaeda and Affiliates as the Enemy, Silent on Hezbollah, Others

By Patrick Goodenough | May 26, 2010 | 11:48 PM EDT

Hezbollah supporters wave flags in Beirut during the 2009 election campaign. (AP Photo)

( – President Obama’s counter terrorism advisor framed America’s enemy Wednesday as “al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates,” but said nothing about anti-U.S. Islamists not affiliated to the network led by Osama bin Laden.

Previewing parts of the new National Security Strategy to be unveiled Thursday, John Brennan told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that describing the enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie that the U.S. is at war with Islam.

“Our enemy is not terrorism because terrorism is but a tactic,” he said. “Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.”

The National Security Strategy to be unveiled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday replaces the one released by the Bush administration in 2006, which declared that “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

Despite its reference to “militant Islamic radicalism,” the 2006 document also took pains not to disparage Islam itself, calling it “a proud religion” that “has been twisted and made to serve an evil end.”

In his CSIS speech, Brennan repeatedly used the phrase “al-Qaeda and its affiliates” in identifying the enemy, and also referred several times to al-Qaeda’s “ideology.”

He did not mention groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian self-rule territories, which pre-date al-Qaeda, have killed Americans, and base their ideologies not on principles established by al-Qaeda but on Islam, the Koran and the sayings of Mohammed.

The U.S. government designated Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad “foreign terrorist organizations” four years before al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. in 2001. Among the legal criteria for designation, “the organization’s activities must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.”

Brennan raised eyebrows last week when he spoke about Hezbollah – which is represented in the Lebanese parliament – as having “moderate elements” which he said the U.S. should try to “build up.”

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley subsequently stressed that U.S. policy towards Hezbollah remained unchanged, saying that it does not recognize “separate military and political wings,” and that Hezbollah must be disarmed in line with U.N. resolutions.

On the anniversary of a 1994 suicide truck bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentineans hold up pictures of some of the 85 victims. Prosecutors blame Hezbollah and Iran for the attack (Photo: Memoria Activa memorial site)

Created by and loyal to Iran, Hezbollah has been linked to terrorist attacks which killed hundreds of people in Lebanon, Europe and Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s.

Annual State Department reports on terrorism note that “prior to September 11, 2001, {Hezbollah] was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist group.”

Nine days after 9/11, President Bush in a speech to Congress pledged that the campaign he was launching “begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

A year later Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state suggested that Hezbollah could be regarded as a more dangerous threat than al-Qaeda.

“Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe al-Qaeda is actually the B-team,” he said at a United States Institute of Peace function. “They’re on the list and their time will come. There is no question about it. They have a blood debt to us … and we’re not going to forget it and it’s all in good time.”

In a manifesto released late last year – its first in more than two decades – Hezbollah reaffirmed that it regards the United States as “the enemy.”

Hamas was founded in the Gaza Strip as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian arm in 1987. While its founding charter focuses on Israel as the enemy – calling for its destruction – it also describes itself as part of a “universal” movement, refers to the “Crusader West” and says the goal of jihad is “to make Allah’s banner supreme.”

Hamas leaders have said the group has never targeted the West, although some have made public statements declaring that Allah has declared war on America.

American citizens have been among the victims of suicide bombings and armed attacks carried out by both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Israel.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow