The president gave a speech today on our defense posture that was schizophrenic and unrelated to reality. He promised to continue the war on terrorism, yet said nothing about slashing defense spending. He ridiculed his predecessor on civil liberties, but with zero political support and no game plan for those who can’t be tried, proposed to send Guantanamo Bay prison camp detainees to the homeland. (How many times must Congress say no?) What was missing was a comprehensive understanding of our enemy — jihadism. And he incorrectly indicated that we contribute to our own woes (“has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law”).
While difficult to do, I’ve selected the 10 worst portions of the speech, which range from untrue to platitudinal to gallingly hypocritical:
1. “From the Civil War to our struggle against fascism, on through the long twilight struggle of the Cold War, battlefields have changed and technology has evolved, but our commitment to constitutional principles has weathered every war, and every war has come to an end.” Thunk. Wars don’t end. They are won or lost. The president seemed to find the ending of any war without regard to its result of the same value. He brought troops home from Iraq. (Fine, but that was when the war was won and his full-scale departure left the country in chaos. Was the disaster his departure invited something else his advisers kept from him?) He touted that the United States will be leaving Afghanistan, but, of course, we’ve not achieved the aim he set forth of dismantling the Taliban.
2. “I won’t review the full history. What is clear is that we quickly drove al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but then shifted our focus and began a new war in Iraq. And this carried significant consequences for our fight against al-Qaeda, our standing in the world and, to this day, our interests in a vital region.” There’s always time to blame George W. Bush, huh? The part of the full history would include the successful surge, Obama’s failure to secure the status-of-forces agreement and his timelines and limitations imposed on the troops in Afghanistan.
3. “There have been no large-scale attacks on the United States, and our homeland is more secure.” Is Boston not large-scale enough for him? Does Fort Hood not count? In fact, we’ve been attacked multiple times on his watch. Are American diplomatic facilities technically American soil? Those have been repeatedly attacked, and four Americans were killed, including, for the first time in 30 years, an ambassador. Later, Obama conceded, “From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with al-Qaeda’s affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, the most active in plotting against our homeland. And while none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.” So maybe not that safe after all.
4. “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be 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. But 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.” This is the “what will be will be” school of national security. Has he given up on networks that pose an indirect danger to us?
5. “Moreover, we have to recognize that these threats don’t arise in a vacuum. Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology, a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam.” By defining the problem as “they think we are at war with them” the president only promoted the notion that we should make ourselves less offensive. In fact, the ideology is one that instructs them to murder all non-believers, whether we are at war or not. The jihadists don’t act out of misguided defensiveness, but out of evil impulse.
6. “In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the extraordinary courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed. So neither conventional military action nor waiting for attacks to occur offers moral safe harbor, and neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services and, indeed, have no functioning law.” Plainly the man has been traumatized by Vietnam. He defines conventional war as bad because we tragically lose men. The problem with Vietnam is that we didn’t win and wasted lives; with Iraq, Obama threw victory away. By defining combat as equally unacceptable as passivity, he overlooked the moral necessity of war in some cases. He also left out the most effective counterexample: Bosnia, where our military action was needed and we achieved our aims. In casting anything more than drone use as virtually never defensible, he signaled to Iran and Syria that they have full rein. This is not a president who will do whatever it takes to keep Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability.
7. “So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia. As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking. We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep-rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred. ” For the hundredth time, Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11, 2001, killers were not poor; they were jihadists. The “grievance” is that Islamic extremists want to kill us.
8. “Over the past decade, we have strengthened security at our embassies, and I am implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board, which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi.” It is galling that he mentioned the ARB cover-up — which never bothered to interview top officials and indeed is itself under review — and to omit the massive failures under his watch that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.
9. “You know, the Justice Department’s investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As commander in chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. That’s who we are. And I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.” Is he a spectator? Did he not know what was going on?
10. “The original premise for opening Gitmo, that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention, was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” Actually, we can keep them there as enemy combatants indefinitely and without trial. That is why they are still there. The American people overwhelmingly and with good reason don’t want the risk of having those detainees on American soil. But those we can’t try? He brushed that aside with the ludicrous assertion that “I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved.” How? (He’s never told us.)
The speech was not all bad. He defended the use of drones overseas to kill terrorists. And he told us finally what sort of extremists the enemy is (not extreme environmentalists, for certain). He also reassured us that even after Boston we won’t deport people without evidence. Otherwise, virtually everything was confused or misleading. More than that, he revealed he has no idea what he’s doing.