Obama Talks War
Obama is at the point in his presidency where nothing is ever going to quite be enough.
Most two-term presidents do get there eventually, though the majority reach it in last year or so of their final term. Thanks to circumstance, Obama has gotten there in the first six months of his.
Such presidential purgatories are marked by frantic efforts to demonstrate the continued relevance of the incumbent, to make a frantic effort to boost the legacy. In general, such efforts take the form of switching he spotlight from whatever trouble spot is erupting at the moment to something -- anything -- that might look better in comparison.
Which brings us to Obama's speech at the National Defense University on Wednesday. (And how are the mighty fallen -- the man who once had Berlin and Cairo at his disposal for a "major" speech now must be satisfied with a government-owned institution across town.) Obama's single achievement of his first term -- with plenty of caveats and granted that it was based on other people's work -- was the elimination of Osama bin Laden. Who can blame him, amid what can only be called an artillery barrage of domestic scandals, to make a stab at reminding the public of happier days?
This speech, arranged with little or no buildup or foreshadowing, was presented as a "reframing" of the war on terror. We have -- at least in Obama's mind -- entered a new phase, requiring a rethinking of policies and strategies in light of changed realities. All very impressive on the face of it, and no doubt delineated and overseen with great care by the massive security, intelligence, and homeland defense structure aligned against Jihadi terror over the past decade.
So what does this novel doctrine consist of?
● A "narrowing" of the parameters for drone antiterror strikes.
● Closure, for the fifth or sixth time, of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility.
● Resuming the return of captured terrorists to Yemen.
● Redefining "and eventually repeal" of the original Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Apart from some not very coherent boilerplate along the lines of "unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight," that's about it. Clearly, this is not much of a doctrine at all, consisting completely of slight adjustments to long-familiar policies and tactics. The drone alteration very likely reflects diminishing effectiveness. The Jihadis, after all, are well aware of the weapon and the simplest countermeasure is simply to wear a burkha. Drones would have been far more effective over the long run if they had been used sparingly against high-value targets instead of cutting them loose on every suspicious village. That's an opportunity lost.
Closing the Gitmo facility is, of course, Obama's long-term wish-fulfillment daydream. To bring it off as he asserts here, he simply has to first convince Congress to proceed, then convince third-party nations to accept shipments of known terrorists as permanent settlers, and then locate an American state willing to host the fanatical remnant. This is possible. So is Obama outplaying Tiger Woods. Neither is going to happen.
The Yemen triumph speaks for itself. It has been long established that these returnees simply run off at the first opportunity to rejoin the jihad. That Obama considers this some kind of achievement is simply pathetic.
At only one point in the speech did Obama refer to the actual shift in Jihadi operations: a switch from external terror teams inserted into the U.S. to carry out operations to internal units - Jihadis recruited over the Net or through informal networks and incited and guided into carrying out their own strikes: "...deranged or alienated individuals -- often U.S. citizens or legal residents -- (who) can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. That pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon." He brings this up only to drop it. Answering such tactics would require an actual shift in policy, involving a curtailment of our grotesque immigration policies and the prevailing multicultural climate. This is not likely anytime soon.
The Jihadis are hacking men to pieces on the streets of the UK, with the first official response coming from a cub scout den mother. We will see the same here, and perhaps sooner than we think. Obama's speech is not likely to have any affect one way or another. As the unveiling of a new doctrine, in failed to achieve so much as anticlimax. As a means of refocusing on Obama Triumphant, we're free to entertain doubts. The one thing it did accomplish was to provide Medea Benjamin an opportunity to caper and gibber. ("I'm about to address it, ma'am," Obama boldly responded to her demand that he close Gitmo today.)
Another three and a half years of this. There is a God.