Why Michele Bachmann Touched a Nerve

In recent weeks, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R- MN) and four other members of Congress caused a firestorm by issuing a series of letters to the State Department, the Pentagon, and other government agencies calling for an investigation into efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to influence policymaking in Washington.  Whatever the merits of their specific charges, they are quite correct that the Obama administration’s reluctance to assign nefarious intent to Islamists in general, and the rising political arm of the Brotherhood in particular, is a terrible triumph of political correctness over national security.

You wouldn’t know it from the anti-Bachmann backlash these letters generated, but it’s hardly unusual to raise concerns about suspected affiliations with enemies abroad, particularly in wartime. Indeed, the federal government has an array of laws and regulations designed to prevent foreign influence operations. For example, the State Department says that it conducts background checks on high-level employees to determine whether their “personal and professional history indicates loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion.”

What ruffled feathers was their suggestion that the Obama administration has been remiss in applying these standards and Bachmann's reference to Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Clinton, whose mother, brother, and late father have well-documented connections to Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organizations. To what extent these connections are germane to approving security clearance is unclear. Radical Islamists are so thoroughly represented in mainstream Islamic institutions that  some associational affiliations may not always be a smoking gun. Sorting through these questions is not easy – that is what the investigation is for.

According to Bachmann and many others, the way policymakers in Washington frame the Islamist threat raises serious questions about whether Abedin and other Muslims in positions of influence have been properly vetted.  Her claim is not that Abedin is an operative or even supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood – a movement affiliated with anti-American terrorist groups – but that we wouldn’t know it if she was.

Though the United States is fighting hostile entities operating with a declaratively Muslim identity, there is a clear trend in the executive branch, law enforcement, and even the judiciary to deny that Islamism has an impact on national security, for fear of appearing discriminatory. Attorney General Eric Holder's acrobatic refusal to concede during a May 2010 congressional hearing that radical Islam might be a factor fueling homegrown terrorism is a disturbing display of this trend.