The official policy of the U.S. government is that the country is not engaged in a war or struggle against global jihad. The National Security Strategy of May 2010 asserts that the war in which the US is engaged “is not a global war against a tactic–terrorism or a religion–Islam. We are at war with a specific network, al-Qa’ida, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners.”1 President Obama boldly reaffirmed this perspective in a speech two months ago: “The United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.” 2

While serving as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John Brennan declared, “We [do not] describe our enemy as ‘jihadists’ or ‘Islamists’ because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering men, women and children.”3

In her final days as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton broke with the Obama administration’s orthodoxy of eschewing the word ‘jihad’ and its specific characterization of the threat facing the United States, saying, “We now face a spreading jihadist threat. We have driven a lot of the AQ operatives out of…Afghanistan, Pakistan…. But we have to recognize this is a global movement.” Later she added, “What we have to do is recognize we’re in for a long-term struggle here. And that means we’ve got to pay attention to places that historically we have not chosen to or had to.”4 In other words, the U.S. is not in a war confined primarily to Afghanistan and Pakistan but rather in a long war–a monumental struggle over ideas and civilizations–being waged by Islamists.

When the Democratic Party’s most influential leader and presumptive presidential nominee begins speaking of a jihadist threat to the United States well beyond the defeat of al-Qaeda, we should be on notice that, more than a decade after 9/11, we have yet to have a serious nonpartisan discussion on the threat that radical Islam and Islamists pose to the West. Contending that there is no ideological battle at stake because al-Qaeda’s ideology amounts to terrorism—a tactic, not a worldview, is to misunderstand the persistence of jihadists, the diversity of their tactics, and the global spread of their movement, even though its adherents are few.

1., accessed on July 23, 2013.

2., accessed on July 23, 2013.

3., accessed on July 23, 2013.

4., accessed on July 24, 2013.

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