Monday, December 02, 2013

2-Dec-13: That war on terror? A subjective thing

No contradiction here: it's a 2010 newspaper story [Source]
A key articulation of the Obama administration's strategy on defeating the terrorists came this past May when the president outlined a revised counter-terrorism policy in a widely-noted speech at the National Defense University in Fort McNair, DC. The headlines focused on his call, one more time, to shut down Guantanamo Bay as well as for new rules to regulate targeted US drone strikes on foreign soil.

Among the key points:
  • Obama spoke of the need to move away from a stance he termed a "perpetual wartime footing". This had dominated American policy thinking since Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force right after the massive terrorist attacks on the New York City and Washington on September 11, 2001.
  • A new approach was needed, a way to "discipline our thinking and our actions" and to move the country away from the old approach.
  • How? He would "work with Congress" to "refine and ultimately repeal" the AUMF.
  • Why? Because a strategy of "perpetual war through drones or special forces or troop deployments will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways".
  • And most memorably: "This war, like all wars, must end." That represented a moment enshrined in a NY Times headline that depicted the Commander in Chief "Pivoting From a War Footing"...
If only life and government were so simple and so responsive to powerful rhetoric.

Some commentators speculated at the time about the wisdom of the president of the United States declaring an end to the "war on terror". We tend to steer away here from speculation, but we do know what future-looking steps the Obama doctrine anticipated:
"...What we can do - what we must do - is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom...
“Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They’ve not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11." [Speech text]
He was speaking six weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, and naturally cannot have been oblivious to the way Americans had been shaken by terrorists striking again in the heart of a great American city. But the power and confidence of the message left little room for doubt that victory was certain, imminent.

Yesterday, nearly seven months later, two of the most prominent voices in US Congressional politics, the embodiment of the people with whom Obama pledged to work on this, sounded an entirely different and contrary note. Their message: the terrorists have gained ground in the past two years and the United States is not any safer than it was at the outset of 2011.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, respectively lead the House and Senate Intelligence committees. They were interviewed jointly on Sunday's edition of CNN's "State of the Union". They agreed that
"...Despite the death of Osama bin Laden and drone strikes aimed at decimating al Qaeda's leadership, President Barack Obama's administration has lost ground in the ongoing battle with global terrorism. "Are we safer now than we were a year ago, two years ago?" host Candy Crowley asked Feinstein... "I don't think so," the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman replied. "I absolutely agree that we're not safer today," Rogers added."
The text of the CNN report shows Feinstein and Rogers describing an international climate "more hostile toward the United States". Some indicators:
  • The growing threat to American security from bombs, "not the kind of improvised devices that plagued U.S. armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, or rudimentary explosives like the pressure-cooker bomb used by the Boston marathon bombers." [Feinstein]
  • Terror groups have tried, "on four separate occasions, to send these newer, more deadly explosives into the United States... There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs... There are bombs that go through (metal-detecting) magnetometers." [Feinstein]
  • The terrorist side even they are "not outright winning, has disproven Obama's claim the group is decimated... an enemy that... is metastasizing to something different". [Rogers]
  • "Rather than placing a premium on sophisticated, simultaneous large-scale terror attacks - like those of September 11, 2001, and embassy bombings throughout the 1990s - the new breed of al Qaeda is more decentralized... something that will make it "exponentially" harder to stop the next attack from happening. [Rogers]
  • Unlawful disclosures of classified information on National Security Agency operations by the renegade former CIA operative Edward Snowden "have already prompted three al Qaeda affiliates to change the way they communicate. With every disclosure, he said, it becomes more and more likely that a planned attack will slip through the intelligence web..." [Rogers]
  • Increasingly fundamentalist Islamist groups are gaining power and winning the minds of the disenfranchised in the Middle East and Near Asia.
  • "I see more groups; more fundamentalist, more jihadist, more determined to kill to get to where they want to get" [Feinstein]
The winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize knows something about peace, and his ability to instill an optimism-enhancing fervour in his audience is second to none. Still, we have plenty of reasons not to think about changing the name of this blog.

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