Obama Sees an End to 'Perpetual' War on Terror

Time to narrow its scope, says president

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted May 23, 2013 2:58 PM CDT

(Newser) – In his big policy speech today, President Obama did indeed promise to rein in drone strikes—a higher threshold for targets will be required, along with a "near certainty" that no civilians will be killed—and to push once again for Gitmo's closure. The full text is here. Some highlights:

  • On Gitmo: “History will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism, and those of us who fail to end it."
  • Terror threat: "Now make no mistake: our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. We must recognize, however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11."
  • 'Crossroads': "America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that 'No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.'"
  • When it's OK to kill an American: "When a US citizen goes abroad to wage war against America—and is actively plotting to kill US citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot—his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team."
  • Journalists: They should not be “at legal risk for doing their jobs," and Obama said he has raised concerns with the attorney general about "overreaching." Those who should be punished are government officials who "break the law” by leaking classified information.

Some quick assessments:

  • New York Times: "Taken together, the president’s words and deeds added up to an effort to move the country away from the perpetual war on terrorism envisioned by his predecessor, George W. Bush, toward a more limited campaign against particular groups that would eventually be curtailed even if the threat of terrorism could never be eliminated," writes Peter Baker.
  • Guardian: "Barack Obama has come close to declaring The Long War—the war on terror—is over," writes Ewen MacAskill. "It is an important declaration. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, military and foreign affairs analysts were predicting the war would last for decades."
  • Washington Post: He "sought to more clearly define the American enemy, make lethal government actions more accountable to Congress and signal that the nation’s long war against al-Qaeda will one day end."
  • Politico: "Obama said the US approach needs to move away from the some of the more aggressive legal and military responses pursued after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks."

President Obama speaks at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington.
President Obama speaks at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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In the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war through drones or special forces or troop deployments will prove self- defeating and alter our country in troubling ways. - President Obama

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