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May. 26 2010 - 10:42 pm | 6,631 views | 0 recommendations | 12 comments

The Manifold Inaccuracies of Andy McCarthy’s New Book

This week, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy celebrated the release of his new book, “The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.” On its page at Amazon.com, Rush Limbaugh offers his endorsement.

“Our freedom is under assault as never before,” the talk radio host writes. “For years, we’ve known about the Left’s campaign to undermine our constitutional liberties and about radical Islam’s campaign to destroy our way of life. What we now see, thanks to Andy McCarthy’s piercing eye and gripping narrative, is that these campaigns work together, seamlessly.”

It is astonishing, if not entirely unexpected, that these two men would collaborate on a book title and cover blurb that accuses the Left of willful treason. But these days, the marketing of a book, however vile, doesn’t necessarily reflect its contents. Fortunately, Mr. McCarthy informed his readers at National Review that three excerpts from his book are available online. This post is an attempt to assess the first excerpt on the merits of the text, ignoring its ugly wrapper. Subsequent posts about the remaining excerpts are likely.

Excerpt number one is titled, “Obama Afraid to Call It a War on Terror.” It begins as follows:

President Obama’s administration has been roundly ridiculed, and deservedly so, for its aversion to the language of war — indeed, for the word war itself. From the Bush language purge, though, it was but a short hop to this sorry destination. Short and inevitable.

Saul Alinsky, Obama’s community-organizing inspiration, waxed at length about language in “Rules for Radicals,” about the power of words to inspire … or to enervate.

The president learned his lessons well: bloodless prolixity deftly imposed from who knows where within Leviathan’s sprawl. It was not the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or even the National Intelligence Directorate but the Office of Management and Budget that advised the Pentagon that the word war is now out.

“This administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror,’ ” said the new, March 2009 guidance. Our warriors were curtly told, “Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ “

The most amusing aspect of this passage is the pejorative invocation of Saul Alinsky, who is cited as if the notion that words have the power to inspire or enervate is a radical leftist insight. As Mr. McCarthy well knows, the power of words is something politicians have understood for the whole of human history. It insults the intelligence of his readers to pretend that it is unique or radical for a politician to marshal them strategically.

The headline and opening passage also leads readers to believe that President Obama is “afraid” to use the word war. Is that true? Let’s peruse his major speeches. Near the beginning of his inaugural address, he said, “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” In his most recent State of the Union address, he said, “One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by a severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt.” In the 2009 State of the Union address, he talked about the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying, “For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.”

President Obama goes on:

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war. And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

There is ample evidence — far more than I’ve quoted — demonstrating that President Obama is perfectly willing to use the word war, and to acknowledge Al Qaeda, the threat from terrorism, and the need to combat extremists half a word away. Mr. McCarthy objects to the strategic renaming of what President Bush called The War on Terrorism, but rather than make a straightforward argument against a change in how we refer to that struggle inside the federal bureaucracy, he dishonestly asserts that President Obama has a radical, ideological opposition to the word war itself, something that would indeed be troubling were it true.

Here is Mr. McCarthy’s next passage:

That this “overseas contingency” on which we are “operating” has left a rather large (and still unfilled) hole in the ground in lower Manhattan apparently was beside the point. Or, better, was exactly the point.

War is a powerful word, redolent of power, force, zeal and national purpose. That is why the left routinely invokes war in its beloved campaigns against poverty, obesity, and other abstractions.

Real wars, the forcible defense of our nation and the pursuit of our interests, are to be avoided. So are real enemies.

Here is President Obama addressing West Point cadets in 2009:

To address these important issues, it’s important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of passengers onboard one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.

As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda — a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents.

Mr. McCarthy would have us believe that President Obama refuses to acknowledge the September 11 attacks, the appropriateness of the word war, or the fact that our current military efforts abroad are directed at real enemies. Yet here is a speech where the president does all those things in the space of one brief passage. The degree of misrepresentation that Mr. McCarthy permits himself is staggering.

Elsewhere in that excerpt, Mr. McCarthy writes:

As in the final Bush years, “Islam” is not to be uttered in conjunction with “terror.” Our “contingency” is only with “violent extremists,” and we wouldn’t presume to suggest that they are motivated by anything other than, say, George Bush, Abu Ghraib or the existence of Guantanamo Bay.

Yet in that same passage above, President Obama acknowledges the Al Qaeda attack that preceded Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, specifically noting that its perpetrators “distorted and defiled Islam” to justify it. Mr. McCarthy would perhaps argue that it wasn’t a distortion of Islam that motivated the hijackers, but the real thing. It would be fine for President Obama and Mr. McCarthy to disagree on this point if the latter didn’t dishonestly pretend that our president refuses entirely to acknowledge that extreme religious beliefs play a role here.

Mr. McCarthy writes:

In Obamalogic, people who live in foreign sharia societies where women are stoned for adultery somehow appreciate the American jurisprudential distinction between detention under the laws of war and detention under civilian due process. And what do you know? Just like the American left, they turn out to be profoundly offended by the military detention.

That, we’re told, is the root cause of terro– er, violent extremism — notwithstanding that there was no Gitmo on 9/11 or during the raft of atrocities that predated it.

The word terror is passe. We wouldn’t want to use a term that comes straight out of the Koran. Rather than terrorism, Obama’s hapless Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained, she prefers the term “man-caused disaster.”

At times, the Obama Administration has made a strategic calculation against using the word terrorism. I don’t have strong feelings about that decision one way or another, and in my own writing, I frequently use the locution “The War on Terrorism.” I am certainly open to the argument that to do otherwise is harmful.

But it is fantasy to say that President Obama and his government have made the word terrorism “passe,” or that they are ideologically opposed to its use — indeed, President Obama and the executive branch of the federal government use that word all the time, though Mr. McCarthy doesn’t inform his readers about that easily verifiable fact. CNN has video and transcript of one instance where President Obama talks of terrorism, terrorist attacks, his counter-terrorism advisor, etc. There are many others.

Or go to the White House Web page, click on the Homeland Security tab, and see if it squares with the alternative reality portrayed by Mr. McCarthy. Here is one sentence a Grand Jihad reader wouldn’t expect to find: “The President is committed to securing the homeland against 21st century threats by preventing terrorist attacks and other threats against our homeland, preparing and planning for emergencies, and investing in strong response and recovery capabilities.” The single specific threat mentioned is terrorism!

Under the “Guiding Principles” headline on that page, the first one listed in boldface is “Defeat Terrorism Worldwide.” Father down, under the subhead dedicated to intelligence, we find this: “Gathering, analyzing, and effectively sharing intelligence is vital to the security of the United States. In order to prevent threats, including those from terrorism, we will strengthen intelligence collection to identify and interdict those who intend to do us harm.” Again, the single threat to America specifically noted is terrorism.

On the White House blog, how did President Obama’s communication staff tease the speech he gave in the aftermath of the Times Square bombing attempt? Here is their headline: The President on Times Square: “But as Americans, and as a Nation, We Will Not Be Terrorized.”

Mr. McCarthy writes:

A civilization fights to preserve itself or it dies. Has ours become so hollow, such a pale imitation of its former self? Do we lack the capacity even to speak of the evils arrayed against us? Have we become so cowardly that our censure is reserved for our saviors, not our pillagers?

The answer is obviously no.

It is perfectly fine for Mr. McCarthy to forcefully disagree with the rhetoric President Obama uses when discussing national security. Unfortunately, this first excerpt of Mr. McCarthy’s book isn’t an argument against President Obama’s rhetoric, it is a wildly, serially misleading, factually inaccurate account of the rhetoric he uses that better resembles an alternative universe.

It is so easily shown to be false that it ought to exist only in the author’s mind. Unfortunately, this misinformation is being touted by Rush Limbaugh as piercing, Michelle Malkin is recommending it to her readers, and Mark Levin is calling it “thorough” and “cutting edge, and few of their listeners will question the facts the book presents because they foolishly if understandably underestimate the capacity for intellectual negligence perpetrated by these hosts everyday.

They rave about a book.

I’ve read a single excerpt, and already the mistakes demonstrated by simple Google searches are multitude.

Epistemic closure, indeed.


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  1. collapse expand

    Great article. There is one thing I must point out. McCarthy writes this:

    “War is a powerful word, redolent of power, force, zeal and national purpose. That is why the left routinely invokes war in its beloved campaigns against poverty, obesity, and other abstractions.”

    Does he not realize that “The War on TERROR” is another abstraction?!

  2. collapse expand

    Very good review, Conor. But I’m not sure this is, or is only, an example of epistemic closure. It’s one thing to insist on your interpretation of events at all costs and not to read commentators outside a very small arc of ideology. It’s quite something else to make up your own facts.

    • collapse expand

      Kevin,

      You’re right. What I thought, and intended to say, is that Mr. McCarthy is the kind of elite that right wing radio relies on for its national security analysis, and whose blinkered assertions get passed on to rank and file conservatives inside the movement information loop.

      I should’ve spelled that out rather than using shorthand in a way that actually communicated the wrong thought.

      Thanks much for the comment.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Sophist: a captious or fallacious reasoner

    Mr. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor who has been intimately involved with prosecuting Islamist terrorists. I’m not sure what the author of this attempted critique has done or knows about this subject.

    The first excerpt and the author’s response deals with: (1) the description of the Obama administration’s choice of language; and (2) the putative inspiration for that choice.

    The text of the excerpt never once claims that Obama is personally afraid to use the phrase “War on Terror.” It states that the administration has officially avoided the use of the phrase and associated terms in favor of euphemisms and more ambiguous terms. The author tries to conflate the heading of the excerpted text (which the author may not have even written) with the actual text of the excerpt. This was done either: (1) intentionally to set up a straw-man; or (2) unintentionally due to a lack of sophistication on the author’s part.

    It is well documented that Obama was influenced by Saul Alinsky’s writings. The author claims that Mr. McCarthy “[invokes]…Saul Alinsky, who is cited as if the notion that words have the power to inspire or enervate is a radical leftist insight.” This is sophistry. Mr. McCarthy cites Saul Alinsky in order to illustrate that Obama seems to choose words to obscure his true intentions, not some broad concept of words having the power to inspire. What is important is the source that Obama draws on to manipulate or deceive people. Again, this was done either: (1) intentionally to set up a straw-man; or (2) unintentionally due to a lack of sophistication on the author’s part.

    I do not know or read this author regularly. However, after doing a cursory Google search, it seems that his predilection is portraying himself as a conservative and then attacking conservatives with the facile, childish, and ever-so-fashionable clichés of the left.

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    Conor Friedersdorf is a writer, a Californian by upbringing, and a nomad at present. Refresh his page often.

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