US Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment duck their heads in the back of a Humvee as smoke and dust rise from a roadside bomb. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)
Before you express an opinion about President Obama’s national security speech yesterday, if you didn’t see it live the read the whole speech on the White House’s website. It’s an important and transformative speech, one that is already drawing howls of outrage from right-wing pundits, hawks in Congress and the neoconservatives.
It was a clarion call to end the war on terrorism. Said Obama: “We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that ‘No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’ ” Al Qaeda is on the “path to defeat” (actually, it’s pretty far along that path), and its imitators, affilates and clones are either focused on local struggles or, like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are far weaker, he said, adding: “None of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11.” Among the Al Qaeda types, he said “While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based.”
That couldn’t be clearer. Global War on Terrorism, R.I.P. Explicitly, Obama said that the United States can go back to its pre-9/11, less-hysterical, less-frantic mindset. “We have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11,” said Obama.
In an important section of the speech, Obama insisted it’s time to rewrite, and in so doing, weaken, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda et al.:
The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.
So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.
I’d highlight two phrases. The first, “not every collection of thugs that labels themselves Al Qaeda,” which means that the president is sticking it to the hawks who say that literally dozens of rabble-rousers around the world must be targeted by the CIA and the Pentagon. And second, of course: “This war, like all wars, must end.”