FLASHBACK--Obama: ‘We're Not Fighting Terrorists, We're Fighting People Who Engage in Terrorism’

November 26, 2012 - 12:43 PM

Gaddafi, Obama

Then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and President Barack Obama in Italy on July 9, 2009. (AP Photo/Michael Gottschalk)

(CNSNews.com) - Shortly after being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama expressed his view that "people who engage in terrorism" are not "terrorists."

“We're not fighting terrorists, we're fighting people who engage in terrorism,” he said at a Nov. 23, 2004 book-signing for his first autobiography, Dreams From My Father.

Obama appeared at a bookstore in New York City just months after delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, which elevated him to the national stage.

“Ultimately, terrorism is a tactic,” Obama said. “We're not fighting terrorists, we're fighting people who engage in terrorism, but have a whole host of rationales and excuses for why they do this.

“And to the extent that we can change the sense of opportunity in many of these countries, and we can change the manner in which we function in these countries in more positive, proactive ways, then we're not going to eliminate terrorism entirely, but we're at least going to be able to make more of a dent than if all we're resorting to is military firepower.” (See his full remarks here.)

On Sept. 16 of this year--five days after terrorists attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya and killed four Americans--Obama's ambassador to the United Nations went on Sunday talk shows and suggested that what had occurred in Benghazi was not a preplanned terrorist attack but a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim YouTube video.

At his 2004 book signing which came three weeks after President Bush’s reelection, Obama also explained the connection between terrorism and limited opportunities for young people in the Middle East.

“I’m not somebody who draws a direct line between poverty and fanaticism or nihilism,” he said.  “And I’m not interested, actually, in making too many excuses for somebody who would see people…as such abstractions, with such contempt, that they would be willing to kill 3,000 people and think that they’re making a political statement.  There are no excuses for that, and that’s where my empathy stops.

“I can’t get into that mindset,” Obama continued.  “But what I can understand is that if a child in Pakistan has no prospects, no future, has watched their parents grind out terrible subsistence existence, then the only avenues that they have for not only advancement but just some sense of meaning in their lives is a madrassas in which they are drilled with a very narrow, fundamentalist brand of Islam that then translates itself potentially into violent political acts, not always but sometimes.”

“There is a connection there,” he said. “And that our foreign policy and our perspective with respect to how to deal with terrorism has to reflect not only the interest in stopping the immediate threat of terrorism but also in creating a foreign policy that promotes justice, that promotes economic development, that promotes the rights of women.  Those are all central aspects to dealing with terrorism.”

Obama concluded that expanding a “sense of empathy” is the “only way that we’re going to survive as a planet.”