Tonawanda News

May 26, 2013

DUVALL: Obama is right, wartime mentality must end

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — President Obama’s national security speech Thursday was a refreshing change of pace for a war-weary nation and a major break from the policies put in place by George W. Bush and continued through Obama’s own first term.

It’s about time an American president stated the obvious: Our society’s moral and legal constructs — much less our nation’s material wealth — cannot survive perpetual war. Furthermore, we need sharper focus on what can be done to make us safer, which will require a new set of rules for a new era in the fight against Islamic extremists. 

The bumper sticker takeaway from the speech is that the Bush-era “war on terror” is over. That seems misleading in some respects. We will still, of course, have to fight al Qaida. We are still in danger of terrorist attacks. In that sense, the fight will never be over.

But what must end is the wartime mentality.

“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” Obama said. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.”

In a year we will be out of Afghanistan. Iraq has largely receded into the background of America’s consciousness — though the brutal violence unleashed once Saddam’s lid on that multiethnic pressure cooker of a nation still rages on.

Recent news events remind us we’re still very much in need of active surveillance but we face new threats. Terrorists can no longer act with the impunity necessary to plot out a 9/11-style attack. As the Boston Marathon bombings ruefully made clear, we’ve entered the age of the do-it-yourself Jihadist. 

To answer that threat, we need our intelligence community to get back to its core mission — gathering and analyzing intelligence. While there have certainly been merits to the CIA’s covert drone program operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it ultimately makes sense for spies to do the snooping and soldiers to do the killing, not the other way around.

By the time Obama leaves office in three-and-a-half years, the hope is to deliver to the next administration a national security apparatus that is less costly and more nimble. 

Of course, to do this, Obama will need the help of the legislative branch to craft sensible national security policy that limits a president’s authority to order covert assassinations. The broad use-of-force legislation passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 must also be refined and curtailed.

When Obama came into office he was handed a military stretched too thin fighting two wars. If he can leave office with the nation at peace and with al Qaida and its ilk marginalized it will be a remarkable accomplishment.

Of course Republicans will howl he’s giving fodder to the enemy and emboldening terrorists. They say that every time someone suggests that maybe it’s a good idea to stop waging endless war. If that’s the worst they can say it’s fine by me. 

And since when did al Qaida need to be emboldened anyway? We’re talking about guys who willingly blow themselves up. To suggest Obama’s speech somehow made someone already that extreme even more extreme is silly, really.

Liberals, too, will be outraged. Gitmo is still open and though Obama renewed his campaign promise to close it, no one has stepped forward with a viable idea for where to put these people if not there or in a place just like it somewhere else. There are and always will be some people too dangerous to let free once they’re captured. A serious investigation into the histories of Guantanamo inmates is warranted. Surely some can be sent packing — but for others it’s too much of a risk.

That they’re rotting in a jail cell somewhere because of this fact doesn’t bother me one bit.

The president spoke maturely about the state of security in the 21st century. He is right. The American empire, to the extent it still exists in an increasingly fragmented, individualized world, cannot survive endless war. 

To suggest otherwise is pure folly.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.