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Obama Still Running on ‘al-Qaeda Is on the Run’ Message as He Talks New Strategy

President eager to link Islamic terrorism solely to al-Qaeda, distance al-Qaeda from known active affiliates, then distance al-Qaeda from all recent attacks: "They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston."

Bridget Johnson


May 23, 2013 - 2:13 pm

With two current scandals pointing to an administration wanting to tamp down evidence of a growing Islamic terrorist threat, President Obama defended drone strikes at the National Defense University this afternoon with heavy emphasis on a continued narrative that al-Qaeda is on the run.

“Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage,” Obama said. “…So yes, the conflict with al-Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.”

“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,” he said. “Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.”

But the president began this drone defense — which included praise of his declassification of the details of the Anwar al-Awlaki strike — with a full-throated denial that Islamic terrorism is gaining the upper hand.

“After I took office, we stepped up the war against al-Qaeda, but also sought to change its course. We relentlessly targeted al-Qaeda’s leadership,” Obama said.

Obama noted homegrown terrorism in which “a person can consume hateful propaganda, commit themselves to a violent agenda, and learn how to kill without leaving their home.”

“The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the Muslim American community – which has consistently rejected terrorism – to identify signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence,” he said, not mentioning that no one who kicked Tamerlan Tsarnaev out of his mosque for expressing radical views notified authorities.

In fact, Obama was eager to first link Islamic terrorism solely to al-Qaeda, distance al-Qaeda from known active affiliates, then distance al-Qaeda from all recent attacks.

“Today, the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11,” he said, calling the threat “more diffuse” with al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

He segmented Benghazi and the attack on the BP oil facility in Algeria as “localized threats…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.”

“We face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States,” Obama continued. “Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a plane flying into a building in Texas, or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our history.”

“Deranged or alienated individuals — often U.S. citizens or legal residents — 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.”

The president said Islamic terrorist “ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam.”

“And this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist attacks,” he said, echoing remarks made by British Prime Minister David Cameron after a soldier was brutally slaughtered by Islamic extremists yesterday.

Obama said his counterterrorism strategy will hinge on “finish[ing] the work of defeating al-Qaeda and its associated forces” and giving aid to French-led intervention in Mali and other international efforts to fight terrorism, and “addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism.”

“But despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists,” he said, drone strikes are necessary because “our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm.”

He predicted that by the time of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan next year “the progress we’ve made against core al-Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.”

“America does not take strikes to punish individuals. We act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat,” Obama added.

The president claimed civilian deaths from drone strikes “for me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.”

He justified the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki but did not mention the more controversial killing of the AQAP recruiter’s teen son.

“And the best way to prevent violent extremism inspired by violent jihadists is to work with the Muslim-American community, which has consistently rejected terrorism, to identify signs of radicalization and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence,” Obama said. “And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. In fact, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say that we’re at war with Islam.”

Obama claimed that “as president, I have tried to close Gitmo.”

“I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo,” he said.

During the Guantanamo part of the speech, he was repeatedly interrupted by Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and engaged her instead of ignoring her. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” Obama said. “Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously, she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”

Republicans lashed out at his speech, though, as very wrong-headed.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, declared “the president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory.”

“Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit,” he said.

“We knew five years ago that closing Guantanamo was a bad idea and would not work. Yet, today’s speech sends the message to Guantanamo detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home, even to Yemen. With the recidivism rate now at 28 percent and the increased threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including in Yemen, Gitmo must stay open for business.”

Obama said “Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.”

“Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at Gitmo,” the president added.

“Gitmo serves an important function of detaining America’s most dangerous enemy combatants. No individual who continues to pose a threat to the U.S. should be shuttled home at the expense of American taxpayers only to return to the battlefield to kill Americans and our friends, no matter how many dramatic hunger strikes are staged,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

“In making national security decisions, the president’s foremost consideration must always be the safety of the American people, not misguided campaign pledges and attempts to pivot from scandals.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted that just before the Benghazi attack Obama had declared “al-Qaeda is on its heels.”

“The troubling reality is that the president continues to underestimate the serious threat that al-Qaeda and its affiliated and inspired terrorists present to Americans. Now is not the time to abandon robust efforts to keep Americans safe. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates were not on their heels last year, and they clearly are not now,” Royce said.

“The president continues to mistakenly treat counterterrorism as a law enforcement issue,” he added. “As a recent example, the Administration has reportedly failed to take military action against the identified Benghazi attackers, in part, because it prefers to try to collect evidence on them so that they might be tried in U.S. courts, leaving these terrorists on the loose. ”

Domestic drone opponent Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he was “glad the president finally acknowledged that American citizens deserve some form of due process.”

“But I still have concerns over whether flash cards and PowerPoint presentations represent due process; my preference would be to try accused U.S. citizens for treason in a court of law,” Paul said.

The greatest praise for Obama’s address, which even liberal pundits branded on Twitter as a catch-all jumble, seemed to come from Obama appointee Chuck Hagel over at the Pentagon.

“The president today presented a comprehensive vision for how we will continue to protect the nation from terrorism, especially from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, while remaining true to our values and laws,” Hagel said. “…Having been closely involved in these issues as a U.S. senator, the co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and now as secretary of Defense, I applaud President Obama’s strong leadership in defending the United States of America and advancing our interests around the world.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (28)
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In terms of what policy does one explain the public disqualification of the Fort Hood casualties from the Purple Heart because they were not the result of enemy action, while sanctioning a covert military operation to kill the person who inspired the action? And all relevant actors are/were US citizens. The answer apparently is that in the public political arena we dare not name the enemy as militant islamics, but we can and do name, and kill, the enemy in the covert arena, while the public pretrial of the actual shooter at Fort Hood drags on into its fourth year.

And now that seeming contradiction in policy is to be resolved in favor of what? Interminably delayed domestic prosecutions of foreign terrorist combatants not to be named as islamists or enemies? Does this widen workplace violence so that OSHA has a world-wide responsibility?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Tell that to the Boston marathon runners,the staff in the Benghazi consulate and the British soldier that was beheaded
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here we go - one more time - our Communist inspired - Al-Qaeda pressured - Socialist leaning - Alinskyite - President is touting his defeat of al-Qaeda once again!
The President is so naive - and to have naiveté clouded over with stupidity makes him a qualified danger to our country.
The word you should be looking for is ‘coup’!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Our current Apologist-in-Chief is his father’s son: Barack Obama, Sr. was a staunch socialist who blamed all the world’s problems on the UK & the USA. To him, the Soviet Union was a “liberating force.” Momma Obama (aka Stanley Ann Dunham) was a leftist zealot blatant in her hatred for the U.S. and its people. Her husbands/lovers were invariably left-wing activists. From that toxic environment, how would you predict their son would develop?
When you leave national security to the Left, you shall have neither security nor, in time, a nation. Woe unto us.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Obama Still Running on ‘al-Qaeda Is on the Run’ Message as He Talks New Strategy"- B.Johnson
"Obama Administration Calls for the ‘Human Rights’ of Jihadi Murderers." - R.Ibrahim

Obama sounds like a spokesman for the U.N. Since I regard Al-Qaeda as some of the worst of the worst jihadi murderers; I'm assuming that Obama wants to make sure that all jihadi murderers do NOT have their "human rights" violated in accordance with the demands of the U.N. Human Rights Council which is also full of the worlds worse human rights violators. Our president is taking his marching orders from the U.N. and OIC - and he's getting castrated in the process. He's now just another internationalist pansy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In the end, Obama's continued power politicking and politics of personal destruction in search of a perpetual term in office; puts everyone of at risk. Obama is in full 2014 campaign mode and that's all he's got; these darn "bumps in the road" are a pain and a hindrance to his agenda. This "speech" was a campaign speech that greases the wheels for his upcoming campaign "tour". The Muslim Brotherhood have set the narrative for him and also; get this; how convenient is the fact that planned attacks by individuals around the U.S.A. mean that Obama can claims no "large" attacks have occurred. NOW is the time to be vigilant; these "lone wolf" attacks are already planned in states around the U.S.A. and Islam is more militant now than it ever has been and the tactics have simply changed to suit the political atmosphere and also to make it easier to deflect blame - which is what Barry just did. ONE more successful attack by "lone wolves" on American soil and the POTUS MUST be held to account - NO MORE POLITICKING WITH 300° MILLION LIVES!!!!! OBAMA!!!! Constituional scholar and Islamic scholar - NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Free speech is a fine idea Obama - until someone dare critique you, question you or otherwise disagree with you. Time ti 'fess up man!!!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.” - Obama
This guy has gone to the dark side. He's projecting openly and siding with the U.N. (international law) against the U.S.A. I was encouraged by Obama's eloquent words of support for Israel during his visit; but I am STILL undecided about his sincerity given the turn of recent events. Only God knows what's in Obama's heart and if the same deceit - on display so flagrantly in his speech - is in any way harboring wrong doing against Israel; then he's toast.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"al Qaeda" is an American word for Saudi-originated, that is, Wahhabi-inspired terrorism mixed with MB inspiration, as in the case of Bin Ladin. "Al Qaeda" is pure Islam, Jihad in its most honest form, 'defensive' war against Dar al-Harb (zone of war) that has not yet submitted to a universalistic, Islam-ruled world.

American leaders, including Dubya and Bill Clinton (not just Islam-loving Obama) are either in denial about this or to some extent just using the 'al Qaeda' bogeyman in part to control a nervous populace.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Agreed. Muslim Brotherhood is not only an inspiration; it's a fellow traveller and one whose goals are one and the same as Al Qaeda; its "affiliates" (another con) and every other Sharia-loving Muslim.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes. The MB is more dangerous, more fluid, larger and more a font of ideas by far than 'al Qaeda.' To some extent, Obama is right, al Qaeda has been worn down. But it was always the military wing of Salafism/Wahhabism abroad - the overseas arm of the most militant of Saudi politicians or intelligence apparatus. And if al Qaeda means 'the organization that inspires and sends jihadis to kill non-believers', then it need not exist for that to occur. Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his 'colleagues' drew their inspiration from Chechniya and the Quran - they did not need Osama bin Laden in any way to motivate them to ritual murder of three Jewish guys in Boston or the terror they committed this spring.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"New York City and Washington DC hit with dirty bombs and a massive EMP burst over California cripples the South West economy. Iran and Muslim Brotherhood claim credit. President Obama emphasizes Al-Queda not involved."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
----- ‘al-Qaeda Is on the Run’

Sure, Barry, and that's why you ordered American armed forces to stand down during the attack on Benghazi. Or were you sacked out at the time?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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