President Obama's speech declaring that
In a sense, the speech was an effort to reframe the war he inherited in 2009 in terms of its current reality. "We must define the nature and scope of this struggle or else it will define us," he said. In claiming to have decimated the al-Qaida leadership and network but not yet its various affiliates, Obama said, "We have to recognize that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came our shores on 9/11."
Choosing to accentuate the positive, the president suggested it was time to pay more attention to the concerns of liberal domestic critics about the manner and morality of waging a war through technologies such as unmanned drone aircraft. He also reopened the issue of closing the American prison camp at Guantanamo, where war and terrorist detainees remain without trial, promising a fresh review.
In effect, Obama said he wants to set the American mindset back to pre-9/11 days when threats to national security were countered piecemeal as they arose, rather than as an endless global war on terror. The U.S. response on his watch, he said, will be in keeping with American core values of individual rights and strict adherence to international codes of conduct in wartime.
"A perpetual war, through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments, will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways," he said. In a pointed reference to the previous administration, he declared, "In some cases I believe we compromised our basic values, by using torture to interrogate our enemies and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law."
In saying that "this war, like all wars, must end," Obama was echoing his 2008 presidential campaign pledge to end this one, but with a commitment to achieve its resolution within the bounds of international law such as barring torture of prisoners. The speech was more evidence of his intention to pivot away from the Bush drift into more free-lancing and nation-building in trouble spots abroad.
Obama specifically said he intends to "engage
Declaring a goal "to refine and ultimately repeal" the mandate, the president warned, "Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into other wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states."
In all this, Obama spoke with particular gravity to his largely military audience at the
After benignly asking her to let him explain his position on the matter, the president finally said, as she was forcibly removed from the room: "The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously, I don't agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn't listening to me and much of what I said. But these are tough issues and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."
Presidents and other political figures are accustomed to brushing aside such interruptions, and Obama's willingness to engage the woman even briefly could well encourage more such vocal challenges as he speaks, to the chagrin of his political strategists.
But the president's handling of the incident underscored his intensity of purpose in pursuing public support for his redefinition of America's war aims and policies for the remaining years of his presidency.
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