Obama is nothing if not deliberate. He rarely makes a hasty move. In fact, one wishes in retrospect he had been a bit more urgent in his first two years.
Today, he basically said that the GWOT is over. Which is good, because the formulation of the GWOT was stupid. How can you wage war on a tactic? And which terrorists are we at war with? The New Provo Front of the IRA? MEK? The Tamil Tigers?
At several points in our history we have declared wars on things that are not states. Drugs. Illiteracy. Teen pregnancy.
But wars exists only between states. The "War in Iraq" lasted a few weeks. What followed was not a "war" but a long drawn out counter-insurgency. Much harder than a war. Same goes for Afghanistan.
You cannot declare war on something that isn't a state, because that war will have no end. We are still fighting (and losing) the "War on Drugs". The idea behind declaring "war" on non-states is to sound tough, macho and butch. It serves no practical policy purpose.
Which is not to say it serves no purpose whatsoever.
Wars serve the power of the state. States are enlarged and aggrandized by war. Most political scientists argue that the very institution of the state arose from Europe's endemic wars from the Middle Ages onward.
The Global War On Terror served the same function. It served to enlarge the power of the state. This served the GOP well when they controlled the White House, but they weren't too uncomfortable with it under Obama unless you count Rand Paul, and why the hell should you?
The idea of war also serves a political purpose. And that purpose is fear. Wars are existential threats. They can destroy the state and the nation that supports that state.
Terrorism isn't really an existential threat. Not to the state. To individuals, it can be of course, but so can cigarettes and we don't declare war on them.
Let's let the POTUS take it from here:
So 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.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.
And then a useful history lesson:
Lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We must take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya. These attacks were all deadly, and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow. But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.
So what's the plan?
First, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces.
Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.
Targeted? Sounds like drones to me. And that's fine, to a point. He then goes on to explain the use of drones in a way that makes eminent sense to me, but my guess is Glenn Greenwald is unimpressed.
So he goes further:
And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it. That’s why, over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.
He then addresses Greenwald and Rand Paul:
This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
He addressed the need to provide a shield law for journalists and closing Gitmo.
But the basic point is that we have to end the idea of the GWOT, because perpetual war will consume us.
America, we have faced down dangers far greater than al Qaeda. By staying true to the values of our founding, and by using our constitutional compass, we have overcome slavery and Civil War; fascism and communism. In just these last few years as President, I have watched the American people bounce back from painful recession, mass shootings, and natural disasters like the recent tornados that devastated Oklahoma. These events were heartbreaking; they shook our communities to the core. But because of the resilience of the American people, these events could not come close to breaking us.