Barack Obama gave a speech earlier today, supposedly a “big picture” type thing about U.S. conduct in the War on Terror. Didn’t watch it, as I had more important things to do (and also I’d rather not find out the effect throwing my shoe at it in disgust has on a flatscreen TV). Yet I do have a few remarks about it, since the text of it is up:
* He starts off speaking as if the ills of the war were entirely the last president’s fault, like he was a horrified bystander who ran for president to put an end to it all — “We unequivocally banned torture*, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law and expanded our consultations with Congress” he says. Well, if the Constitution actually holds as the law part of that slogan “rule of law” here, then Obama may want to crack open his old books about it and consider Article 6. Treaties agreed to count as law, and back in 1988 the Convention Against Torture was agreed to by the U.S. government. Among the requirements of it are that ordering or acquiescing to torture is a crime, to be prosecuted. Has anyone that has authorized torture been prosecuted for it yet?
* After acknowledging the length at which this latest war has gone on, and the cost in (American only, of course) lives and money, Obama decided the following was a good place to turn next:
So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, 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.
Yet in another part of the speech, he points to the Authorization to Use Military Force and attributes absolute blanket powers to it. Just what condition would he see as sufficient to repeal that blank check? Has he noticed that as the fighting has gone on, the occurrence of groups declaring themselves al-qaeda affiliates has spread (and that this includes elements in Syria that a substantial portion of congress wants to send weapons to)? How can a war defined by a tactic, fought in ways that reproduce it, ever end?
* Referring to regional extremist groups (all emphasis mine):
While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. That means we will face more localized threats like those we saw in Benghazi, or at the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives – in loose affiliation with regional networks – launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.
If they’re concerning themselves with their own country, how are they our issue? Especially how in the hell is an attack on a BP facility in Algeria readable as threat to the U.S.? Surely BP can afford their own security (since we didn’t bankrupt them like we should’ve after that Gulf disaster), right?
Our involvement in these areas, over time, cannot help but convince those there of the importance of the U.S. overriding that of whoever they’re fighting in their country. That’s how you end up with transnational threats, by teaching a mere national or local threat that their current opponent is irrelevant.
* About the roots of terrorism:
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.
Yes, violence against civilians is never justified. Now explain why the term “collateral damage” even exists, and why the definition of a combatant in a drone strike area is stretched to include all military-age males…
Whether it’s an AQ sympathizer bombing a market or a missile from U.S. planes hitting one, it doesn’t matter, dead civilians = evil. It’s called being consistent.
* In the course of claiming to make restraints on use of force, Obama touches the latest unavoidable object by saying the following:
For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process.
“…and now here’s why I did exactly that which I just said was unconstitutional.”
That’s not how it works. Briefing congress is not due process. By the way, even if your blather about how much of a Bad Guy Awlaki was did somehow cancel out the unconstitutional nature of what you just said was unconstitutional, it says absolutely bupkus about why his son was later killed.
It is my understanding that this was televised when delivered. This means the president of the United States, amidst all the cliche talk that when observed makes one think he forgets that he’s president, admitted to multiple violations of the Constitution. On camera. And nothing will come of it.
“Rule of Law”, my ass…
(* – EDIT 05/31/2013: Increasingly it’s sounding like what was really banned was American hands administering the torture themselves. There’s a man suing the FBI at the moment who states that he was tortured by authorities in the United Arab Emirates under the orders & supervision of Americans, and his account sounds a lot like others before him.)