There are two versions of the “jihadis are rooting for the other guy” argument, one which tends to favor Republicans and one which tends to favor Democrats. The first is the one used by Dick Cheney during the 2004 campaign, that “if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again.” I.e. Democrats are simply too soft and weak to protect America. The second is the one used by various liberals the same year, that American military adventurism in the Middle East is great for jihadis since it gives them a handy pitch to new recruits. Are you angry about the infidel’s invasion of Iraq, young Muslim? Then come and learn how to be a mujahid. The two arguments are really just a proxy for the larger argument about how aggressive the U.S. should be in targeting terrorists. Too aggressive and you end up with the Iraq war; not aggressive enough and you end up with 9/11.
Twelve years later, those arguments are muddled because the foreign-policy leanings of the two nominees have flipped. Hillary is the one who supports humanitarian interventionism and Trump is the one who wants less American adventurism abroad. (Depending on the day, of course. Some days he’ll tell you that we might need 30,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria.) Hillary can’t use the traditional Republican argument against Trump that greater isolationism means weakness and vulnerability, though, because her lefty base still favors the traditional Democratic position. So she’s switched to a slightly different spin, one which couldn’t be used as easily against Bush: By placing all Muslims under suspicion of terrorism via his original proposal to bar them from entering the U.S., Trump is giving jihadis a new angle with which to recruit. There may not be U.S. tanks and bombs in Syria under President Trump — or maybe there will be, per that 30,000 figure — but it’s clear enough that he and his supporters are hostile to Islam. This is part of a larger policy argument too, namely, how critical should the west be about Islamic culture? Not critical enough and you end up tolerating misogyny and censorship; too critical and it’s easier to characterize the war on terror as a war on Islam.
Clinton doesn’t want to inch out on the “jihadis support Trump” limb by herself. It’s too precarious. As support, she cites this piece by Matt Olsen, former head of the National Counterterror Center. Olsen was appointed to a natsec position within the DOJ by Bush in 2006 before being elevated to lead the NCTC by Obama five years later. He’s on Team Hillary this year. I assume the piece was written at the campaign’s request:
In recent months, ISIS has made clear that it’s closely following this election, too—and it has chosen a candidate. Interviews with ISIS members and analysis of social media, including in a recent Foreign Affairs article by Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi, make it clear: “ISIS is rooting for Trump.”
This year, ISIS isn’t simply a passive observer of American politics. Since the group’s rapid rise in 2014, ISIS has established a far-reaching, sophisticated propaganda machine. Its members rely on social media to shape public opinion, recruit new members and mobilize followers to carry out attacks. Now, some of them are using those channels to advocate for Trump. In August, one ISIS spokesman wrote: “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump.” Another supporter declared: “The ‘facilitation’ of Trump’s arrival in the White House must be a priority for jihadists at any cost!!!” ISIS is working to drum up support for the candidate it has called “the perfect enemy.”…
Trump’s anti-Muslim proposals are likely to inspire and radicalize more violent jihadists in the U.S. and Europe. Specifically, his calls for a ban on Muslims visiting our country and for blanket spying on mosques reinforce ISIS’s view that the U.S. is hostile to all Muslims. As a former ISIS fighter told Revkin and Mhidi: “When Trump says hateful things about Muslims, it proves that jihadists are right to fight against the West, because the West is against Islam.”
Olsen is a useful authority for Clinton to reference. Trump typically scores higher than she does on handling terrorism — he led 51/45 on that issue in the big CNN poll this week — and Team Hillary must be worried that a small but meaningful share of the electorate will be jittery on Election Day that a woman commander-in-chief won’t be as willing to use military force as an alpha male like Trump would. She needs to neutralize his advantage here. Painting Trump as ISIS’s favored candidate is one stark way to do it, and the more she can back that up with support from big-name counterterror specialists, the safer the argument will be for her to make. Not coincidentally, earlier today she announced a meeting on national security tomorrow with David Petraeus and former Bush DHS secretary Michael Chertoff. As she piles up high-profile natsec people, especially if they come from the other party, it becomes harder for Trump to argue that she’s dangerously weak.
Here’s the question. If you’re Trump, how do you counter this? One obvious way would be to roll out your own big-name counterterror experts, but beyond Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump doesn’t have people on the level of Olsen, Petraeus, or Chertoff. I think he’ll resort to the traditional Democratic argument against her at the debates, namely, that her own penchant for adventurism in Iraq and later in Libya has done more to generate new terrorists than a thousand speeches about a ban on Muslim visitors could ever do. In fact, he was going to make that argument no matter what Hillary and her coterie of experts said or didn’t say about Trump and national security. The “ISIS *hearts* Trump” talking point is probably more defensive than offensive, to give her a handy reply when Trump inevitably confronts her about her terrible foreign-policy record. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong accusing your opponent of being a jihadi stooge.