Barack Obama has been president now for four-plus years. Before that, he was briefly a U.S. senator. Yet, despite all of this time as a legislator and shaper of human destiny, he still labors under the hopelessly naïve view that war ends not with victory or defeat but with a timeline. In his addled understanding, one side announces its plans to pack up and leave, then both go home and forget about the whole thing.
He took this position with the war in Iraq, issuing an end date for combat in 2010 and making good on his threat by withdrawing all troops by the end of 2011. The war was unpopular here at home and his decision essentially to surrender unilaterally received little public opposition, though it raised eyebrows among his military advisers. Afghanistan — a theater of war that has sustained more casualties on his watch than on that of his predecessor — faces a similar fate next year, when the process of “transition” will be completed. What that war-torn nation becomes after we leave is still anybody’s guess. The Taliban are certainly licking their chops in anticipation of the pullout of the last U.S. troop.
Now Obama is carrying this same deadly prescription into uncharted waters. In his speech on terrorism last week at the National Defense University, he said of the war on terror, “This war, like all wars, must end.” One might ask the commander in chief how his war-ending vs. war-winning policy is working out for the people of Iraq, at least 70 of whom were killed this morning in a bombing raid on the nation’s capital.
But there is no need for that. The “war on terror” — like the “war on women” — isn’t a real war per se but rather an abstraction. Don’t get me wrong. There is actual physical fighting and killing in the war on terror, sometimes of innocent civilians by drone strikes. But this war is equally a state of mind, or perhaps more properly put, a state of alert, of readiness.
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We participate in this facet of the war on terror for better or worse every time we go to the airport and remove our shoes and belts and empty our pockets before passing through an X-ray scanner. We sense the war-waiting-to-happen every time we read in the news of new milestones in Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power. We are reminded of it in reports of sporadic acts of violence carried out in the name of Islam, such as the beheading in broad daylight of a British solider or the Benghazi attack that killed four American civilians last Sept. 11.
But somehow, in Obama’s vision all of this is soon to be relegated to the past. He hasn’t exacted a ceasefire from al Qaeda or even a promise to desist from their attempts to kill infidels, but the president’s followers are on board with ending the war on terror. Eugene Robinson has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post titled “Declaring the 9/11 Era Over.” In it he writes:
President Obama wisely avoided the phrase ‘mission accomplished’ in his major speech last week about the ‘war on terror,’ but columnists aren’t obliged to be so circumspect: It is time to declare victory and get on with our lives.
Well, golly gee, Gene, that sounds like a capital idea! The next lunatics armed with pressure cooker bombs blow up a sidewalk full of onlookers at a race, we’ll just pretend it never happened and look the other way.
The New York Times was also pretty ecstatic about Obama’s pronouncement. In an editorial titled “The End of the Perpetual War,” the newspaper of record saluted the speech as “the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America,” adding triumphantly:
For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future.
Now if only the Times’s editors could reality to conform to this rosy scenario.
The future, regardless of whether Obama succeeds this time in closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay or refines his use of drone warfare, is being written by fanatics — some in this country — even as we speak. These are people who are as undeterred by olive branches or gestures of good will as they are ruthless. They mean to kill us whether we fight back or not.
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