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Brennan Outlines Terror Strategy, Rebutting Critics

John Brennan, the so-called White House counterterrorism czar, gave a broad overview of the Obama administration's strategy for combating what he said is a persistent extremist threat, and explaining a shift from the "Global War On Terror" to a strategy heavy on both a muscular offense and deep engagement with the Muslim world.

Brennan also directly targeted from the very beginning what he said were failed policies from the previous administration, noting that he was speaking eight years to the day when a Presidential Daily Brief warned of that Osama bin Laden was "determined to strike" the United States.

"We all have seen how our fight against terrorists sometimes led us to stray from our ideals as a nation," he said, singling out tactics like waterboarding that he said have "actually set back our efforts." "They are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists, increase the determination of our enemies, and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us. In short, they undermine our national security."

Brennan said he has been "deeply troubled by the inflammatory rhetoric, hyperbole, and intellectual narrowness" in the debate over the new administration's strategy. "Some like to claim that the President's policies somehow represent a wholesale dismantling of counterterrorism policies and practices adopted by his predecessor. Others claim that the President's policies constitute a wholesale retention of his predecessor's policies. Well, they can't both be right," he said.

On the offensive side, Brennan said the U.S. military, working with allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been "confronting al Qaeda directly, inflicting significant losses to the Taliban and al Qaeda." He argued that the president himself has been willing if eager to be "even more aggressive, even more proactive, and even more innovative, to seek out new ways and new opportunities for taking down these terrorists before they can kill more innocent men, women, and children."

Brennan also argued the necessity of targeting not just terrorists but "extremism" in general, saying it can be seen in President Obama's "personal engagement with the world." It was here where Brennan explained in detail for the first time the administration's shift from use of the term "global war on terror."

"Terrorism is but a tactic -- a means to an end, which in al Qaeda's case is global domination by an Islamic caliphate," he said. "Confusing ends and means is dangerous, because by focusing on the tactic, we risk floundering among the terrorist trees while missing the growth of the extremist forest. And ultimately, confusing ends and means is self-defeating, because you can never fully defeat a tactic like terrorism any more than you can defeat the tactic of war itself."

In addition, this White House sees the enemy as "extremists," not "jihadists," an important distinction he said given that "jihad" means "to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal." Using that term "risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself," Brennan said.

"Obama is committed to using every element of our national power to address the underlying causes and conditions that fuel so many national security threats, including violent extremism," he said.