Former Breitbart News National Security editor Dr. Sebastian Gorka said in an interview during CPAC 2017 that he is not surprised to find himself under sustained assault from mainstream media outlets now that he works for the Trump White House.
“Look, these attacks are just too predictable. As they say in the military, ‘you’re only taking flak if you’re over the target.’ It’s always personal, always ad hominem. That tells you all you need to know about the other side’s true weakness. They can’t win on the merits of their case, so they ‘play the man, not the ball,'” said Gorka, as transcribed by the Washington Free Beacon.
WFB’s Bill Gertz provides a summary of the attacks Gorka was referring to:
The New York Times falsely suggested Gorka, the British-born immigrant of Hungarian émigré parents, had Nazi sympathies—despite that fact that Gorka’s father fought against both the Nazis and the Communists in Hungary.
The Post sought to portray Gorka as a minor counterterrorism specialist on the “fringes” of Washington and sought out obscure critics to denounce him. One former CIA analyst told the newspaper he was “nuts” while knowing little about Gorka.
Politico‘s profile of Gorka quoted “puzzled” security experts who criticized him for his outspoken views on Islam, jihad, and the counterterrorism views that closely align with the new president.
The Wall Street Journal quoted numerous think tank terrorism experts who said they did not believe Gorka was part of the “mainstream” of experts.
Gertz also quotes a number of military officers and elected officials who spoke up in Gorka’s defense, such as retired Army Lt. General John M. Mulholland. Mulholland said Gorka “has always been first and foremost a patriot, dedicated to this country” and praised his work as “helping us understand the threat so we can apply our capabilities to support the nation against the unconventional warfare threat, in this case, the terrorism threat.”
“Seb is one of those guys we always turn to to help us understand the threat, and he’s a great friend and supporter of our community and our mission and in helping us in our own endeavor to master the environment,” Mulholland, who was formerly deputy commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, added.
The former commander of Army Special Operations, retired Lt. General Charles T. Cleveland, praised Gorka for taking the time to “understand how the special operations soldiers, many who had multiple tours in the fight, saw the challenges and were dealing with them.” He added that Gorka offered “crisp, relevant, and useful” instruction to counter-terrorist operators.
The “anti-Semitism” slander thrown at Gorka is patently absurd, as the Washington Free Beacon article makes clear by citing his support for Israel, and Gorka has found it necessary to personally address a bizarre effort to portray him as a “Nazi sympathizer” based on a medal given to his father. Charges of “Islamophobia” are wearily predictable but difficult for any fair-minded observer to square with Gorka’s consistent support for friendly Muslim governments in Jordan and Egypt, among others. Indeed, the ongoing effort to confuse Islamism with Islam, and treat criticism of the former as slander against the latter, is precisely the sort of ideological weapon Gorka wishes to disarm.
“Just as Ronald Reagan undermined the narrative of the communists, we have to help our allies, the Sunnis of the region, make the totalitarian ideology of the jihadists look hollow and crumble in upon itself. The larger part of our task is to have a very, very full-throated counter-propaganda campaign, which means the Islam of our allies against the Islam of groups like the Islamic State,” Gorka said in a recent interview with Breitbart News Daily. A great deal of manure is required to fertilize such comments into “Islamophobia.”
Gorka’s more serious critics — those motivated by something more than the hunger for cheap drive-by hits on anyone and everyone associated with the Trump administration — may find themselves uncomfortable with the idea of waging the ideological battle or “counter-propaganda campaign” he advocates. He is talking about a campaign broader and deeper than killing X number of jihadists to convince ISIS to throw in the towel. Too many analysts and pundits in the West have been convinced that we either cannot effectively wage such a campaign within the Islamic world or that we have no right to even try.
It will be long and hard work, and Gorka has never claimed otherwise. Dissipating the will to violent jihad is difficult as long as violent jihadis can convince recruits they are winning or, at least, have a decent chance of winning. Their definition of “winning” is amorphous. It cannot be dispelled by drawing a line on a map and confidently stating that some mythical jihad army will never be able to march in formation across it.
There is some irony in noting that President Obama largely agreed with the broad strategic outlines Gorka is now condemned for proposing; the difference is that Obama was comprehensively mistaken about how to connect with positive forces within the Islamic world and break the ideological spine of jihad.
As George Mason University professor Colin Dueck puts it, in a defense of Gorka against lazy slander from the Washington Post, published by National Review on Monday:
Gorka’s critics, including at the Post, appear to have developed selective amnesia about the counterterror record of the recently departed Obama administration. Recall that Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009 determined to “end wars” against terrorists, partly by declaring these wars to be over. The former president seems to have believed that by reaching out to global Muslim opinion, expunging “jihadist,” “Islamist,” and similar terms from official documents such as the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, pressing Israelis on territorial concessions, blaming the Bush years for America’s international woes, focusing much more narrowly on the core of al-Qaeda along the Pakistanti-Afghan border, scaling back the inherited American counterterror apparatus, supporting moderate Islamists, and emphasizing his own transformative autobiographical potential, he might undercut support for terrorist jihadists throughout the Muslim world.
It didn’t work out as planned. Over the eight years of the Obama administration, while the original core of al-Qaeda was hammered, its affiliates and like-minded groups expanded in scale and influence through North Africa, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, the Sinai Peninsula, Syria, and Iraq. In particular, jihadists and militant Islamists took advantage of the chaos stirred up by the Arab Spring — along with Obama’s missteps in relation to this — to expand their geographic scope. The creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, made easier by American disengagement from Iraq at the end of 2011, was only the most dramatic of jihadist expansions.
Dueck quotes from Gorka’s book Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War to refute accusations that Gorka is anti-Islamic: “We are not at war with Islam. The people most imminently in danger, in fact, are the nonviolent and non-extremist Muslims of the Middle East, such as our allies in Jordan and the modern Muslims of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.”
At the moment, America and her allies are still struggling to see the enemy clearly or even speak his proper name. Clarity remains an offense to be punished in certain circles.