President Obama recently noted that “This war, like all wars, must end.” In other words the president is outlining revisions in the legal and moral framework that have guided policies since 2001. Presumably this speech is guided by the president’s belief that we have “turned a corner” in the war with al Qaeda and other terrorist entities. Moreover, the president argued that the 2001 congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force adopted after the 9/11 attack should be revised and eventually repealed to recognize the diminished capability of al Qaeda as a terror organization.
The president also insisted that despite his belief in ending the war, unmanned, remotely piloted drones remain a legal, effective and moral tool for fighting terror. One might well ask if the war is over, why are drones needed at all. But this is begging the question. The fact is that wars do not end by declaration.
Our mission in Afghanistan is concluding because the president made a unilateral decision to withdraw our forces. What is not clear is whether the Taliban got the message. From all that has been reported, their guns have not been converted into plowshares. And that is precisely the problem the nation now confronts. The president may believe that this war must end, but it doesn’t seem as if our enemies agree.
All of this talk about “history’s guidance” in this speech overlooks last September’s al Qaeda attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. It overlooks the role al Qaeda now plays with the rebel forces in Syria. It ignores as well the resurgence of violence in Iraq.
The president obviously is intent on writing the War on Terror out of existence, but the war on terror has a persistence the president’s assertions ignore. If we wish something to be true, is it necessarily true? Here is the juvenile make-a-wish dream converted into foreign policy. The president appears to be converting national security concerns into local policing vigilance. If so, should we be reading Miranda rights to apprehended terrorists? Are the Tsarnaevs merely misguided thugs who have gone astray? Is the knife wielding Islamist who beheaded a British soldier on the streets of London a criminal with religious impulses?
As I see it, this speech by the president is not only naïve; it sets in motion a host of actions justifying defense retrenchment in the national budget. After all, if the war is about to end; if al Qaeda’s ability to do us harm has been thwarted, why do we need so many soldiers, planes, ships, drones, etc.? Sequestration, thy name is “peace in our time.”
Rather than the end of war speech, this should be the preamble. We should be asking if the president’s claims are realistic. We should be going through a defense assessment review considering what assets are needed should al Qaeda and its offshoots raise their ugly head.
Happy talk belongs in “South Pacific,” not in the Oval office. A president has an obligation to be thoughtful, not pollyannish. And most noteworthy, the president should be someone the public can trust. Once President Obama decided he could go to bed early on the day the Embassy in Benghazi was attacked virtually ignoring the death of our ambassador, his assistant and two Navy Seals, he forfeited the trust Americans normally confer on those in the White House.
Now the war is “winding down.” If you believe that I assume you believe that the IRS responds dispassionately to all requests. This latest speech gambit by the president shows yet again that appearance in this administration is more significant than substance, that reassuring words are all that is necessary to bring about the absence of conflict. Very soon the president will learn this is not “what history advises…and what our democracy demands.”
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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