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The Grand Strategy of the United States of America

Barack Obama:

Barack Obama: You know, the way we have to approach, I think, this problem of Islamic extremism ... is we have to hunt down those who would resort to violence to move their agenda, their ideology forward. We should be going after al Qaeda and those networks fiercely and effectively. But what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse.

And that lumping together Shia extremists with Sunni extremists, assuming that Persian culture is the same as Arab culture, that those kinds of errors in lumping Islam together result in us not only being less effective in hunting down and isolating terrorists, but also in alienating what need to be our long-term allies on a whole host of issues.

Ezra Klein comments:

That last point is particularly important. A few months back, Mitt Romney, who's now on John McCain's short list for the vice presidency, said, "I don’t want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there’s going to be another and another. This is about Shi’a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate."

The Egyptian Brotherhood isn't a terrorist group. al Qaeda, a Sunni terrorist group, hates Iran and is rivals with Hezbollah, a Shi'ite extremist sect. This statement, in other words, made no sense. It was a war against Arabs, and maybe some Persians. not a limited conflict against al Qaeda. As Obama says, one of the clear distinctions between the Left's approach to terrorism and the Right's approach to terrorism is that the Left wants to limit the scope of the conflict, while the Right wants to expand it. So though it was only al Qaeda who attacked us on 9/11, Romney and Giuliani and McCain and plenty of their colleagues want to zoom out from al Qaeda to terrorism, and from terrorism to Islamic extremism. Rather than this being an effort to hunt down al Qaeda, it becomes a war to hunt down al Qaeda, destroy Hezbollah, eradicate Hamas, overthrow Saddam Hussein, change the regime in Tehran, crush the Muslim Brotherhood, and confront Syria, and whatever else Bill Kristol thought of while eating his Cheerios that week. It is an incredibly dangerous and incoherent approach. And it marks a genuine difference between Obama and McCain.