It’s easy to see the absurdity in saying that men who shout “Allahu Akhbar” before they murder Jews, cartoonists and French policeman are not radical Muslims. But Earnest was not freelancing, he was articulating a longstanding U.S. policy, not only for Obama but also his predecessor, George W. Bush. Both administrations have said repeatedly since Sept. 11, 2001, that radical Islam is not Islamic.

There is a reason for this: The long war against radical Islamic terrorists requires at least the tacit support of many radical Muslims.

It sounds strange. But as Emile Nakhleh, who was one of the CIA’s top experts on political Islam between 1993 and 2006, told me, there was a recognition following the 9/11 attacks inside the Bush administration that many supporters of the Wahhabi strain of Islam favored by al-Qaeda and its allies were not plotting attacks on the West. In some cases, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the purveyors of Wahhabism were longstanding American allies. “There was the two-ton elephant in the room, and that is Saudi Arabia,” Nakhleh said.