Thursday, May 23, 2013

Obama redefines the war on terror

President Obama gave a foreign policy speech this afternoon. Do yourself a favor. Read the whole speech before you read any of the instant punditry and take it as gospel. If you're out of free reads at the NYT, Booman has it and he also has one of the more temperate takes on it.

It was a huge and complex speech. A speech that takes some time to process fully. Maybe it was just too complicated in a world that now operates mostly in 140 character quips and expects on demand gratification. The initial wave of analysis I've seen was rife with cherry picked points that offer a ride on favored hobby horses.

Predictably, drones emerged as the first complaint. Obama didn't disown their use. He was honest in his assessment of their necessity. He didn't make false promises that they won't be used again. What was mostly ignored is that he acknowledged they were problematic and pledged to work towards making their use more transparent and accountable. What also won't be mentioned much is the appropriate Congressional committees were informed before every strike. And I suppose I'll lose whatever liberal cred I have left when I say, I agree with Obama. Given the choices, none of which are good, drones are still a better choice than any other option. I don't want our country to be killing people. But I honestly think, Obama doesn't either and he's making the best choices he can under the circumstances. He's not wrong when he says it's the best way to minimize civilian deaths.

I've seen him accused of passing the buck to Congress. Not sure how that works, when Congress is the body that has the responsibility for setting the parameters. Obama tried to close Gitmo practically on the first day he took office. Congress wasted no time in making it illegal to do so. Never understood what executive action progressives think he should have taken to override Congress. Funny, I thought we hated executive overreach. Don't see how he could do much more than say this.
"There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened."
Obama also addressed everything from surveillance on the media to prosecuting leakers to the incremental destruction of our civil rights under the aegis of national security. Much of it was more aspirational than operational. Given the political reality, don't see how he could do much more. But the most important part of the speech was clear and bold. He promised to work to rescind the AUMF. He won't sign another extension. No other president will be able to wage an undeclared war under that ill-advised leftover legacy of the Bush administration.

That's big. He deserves some praise for that, dammit. I'm thinking historians will be kinder to Obama in the future than the media and the internets are to him in the present.

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