Obama counters violent extremists with extremists

Jacob Siegel writes: There’s a gnawing contradiction at the center of a high profile White House summit being held this week dedicated to curbing violent extremism: The U.S. is heading the opposition to extremism at the same moment the country is increasingly allied with violent extremists in the fight against ISIS.

It’s one of a number of inconvenient issues as national and global leaders gather to figure out what to do about the radicals in their midst. Critics, including former administration officials and terrorism experts, are skeptical about the effectiveness of government initiatives. Many question whether the summit amounts to much more than a feel good PR spectacle.

The “Countering Violent Extremism” conference, which began Tuesday and runs through Friday, has drawn elected leaders and lawmakers from around the world, U.S. law enforcement officials, religious leaders, and experts on radical ideologies and their adherents. Participants are supposed to address a broad range of extremist threats, but it’s clear from President Obama’s own remarks that ISIS and the threat from jihadist groups have an outsized presence at the summit.

Few details about the summit’s agenda were released ahead of the event but even before it began there was debate over how extremism would be defined. The White House was accused, variously, of “avoiding the world Muslim” in its discussion of extremist threats and focusing too narrowly on Islamic radicalism at the exclusion of other violent groups. The terms of that debate miss another distinction. As the war against ISIS illustrates, there are extremist groups the government is willing to tolerate, and in some cases work alongside, and others it is not. [Continue reading…]

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