Thursday, May 23, 2013

War is over.

Those with an interest in perpetuating continued conflict, and in inflating the power of our enemies, are going to be frustrated by President Obama's speech at the National Defense University today. And those who want to dismantle the war machine even faster are going to complain also. The rest of us are probably going to be pleased with this new direction.

Here's the quote that justifies the title above:
"The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old.  The Afghan war is coming to an end.  Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self.  Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.  Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. 
So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.  And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.  Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue.  But this war, like all wars, must end.  That’s what history advises.  That’s what our democracy demands."
It seems to me that some of the coverage of this speech so far, which has focused on changes in drone policy and similar shifts in direction, is missing the big picture. The big picture is that we are moving away from an open-ended, ill-defined "war on terror" in which our enemies are everywhere, and almost anything is justifiable in its name, to a much more focused effort directed at clearly defined threats.

The problem with the "global war on terror," as defined by the Bush administration (or perhaps the beauty of the war on terror in some people's eyes) was that it fed the permanent war economy and the national security state. In other words, it served the same purpose as the Cold War. It's not that the threats behind either the Cold War or the War on Terror were imaginary. It is more that the scope of these wars was so vague that they caused us to become bogged down in places like Vietnam and Iraq, where our mission was unclear, and that these lengthy, poorly-defined conflicts were used to justify encroachments on the freedom of American citizens that were probably not worth the benefit. Unless we want to live in a permanent state of hostility and fear, that kind of war must come to an end.

 (full text here)

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