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Ron Radosh

Obama’s Confused and Contradictory Defense Speech

May 25th, 2013 - 7:23 am

Barack Obama has given what may turn out to be his most important foreign policy speech. It certainly is, as the editors of The New York Times put it, “the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America.” But what exactly is the president’s point? What is different about this new counterterrorism policy and is it putting us on the right path going forward?

Of course, the Times editors are quite happy with it. They are pleased that it marks an end to “extraordinary acts like indefinite detention without charges and the targeted killing of terrorist suspects.” And, as you might expect, they are pleased that from now on, counterterrorism will be handled “primarily by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies.” Those of us who believe that acts of war should actually be handled differently have reason to be disappointed and worried.

No wonder that when Code Pink’s leader Medea Benjamin shouted out her protests, she was not removed and the president admonished the audience that “the voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.” Evidently, the angry Ms. Benjamin was too stupid to understand — perhaps because she was not really listening to the president, who was telling us that he was preparing to implement precisely the kind of measures that Code Pink has always proposed. As the Times editors wrote, he was “briefly stopped by a heckler from outlining the very closure [of Guantanamo] plans that she demanded.”

Obama said he was no longer going to keep the country “on a perpetual wartime footing.” In particular, he promised a new policy on the use of unmanned drones against terrorists, a policy that has over the past few years come under attack from both those on the left and the right. Drones have, for example, drawn the ire of both Rand Paul and the editors of The Nation. Others in the conservative community, such as Kenneth Anderson in Commentary magazine, have presented cogent arguments in defense of their use. As Anderson writes, “The strategy has worked far better than anyone expected. It is effective, and has rightfully assumed an indispensable place on the list of strategic elements of U.S. counterterrorism-on-offense.”

Indeed, in the period when Barack Obama increased the use of drones to a much greater level than the sparing use of them by George W. Bush, liberals remained silent and supportive, while only those like the Code Pink left-wing extremists, the Nation editors, and New York Review of Books writer David Cole yelled about it. Cole was quite pleased with the speech:

Until now, the administration has exercised the authority to order lethal drone strikes entirely in secret, without a precise or clear set of rules, and under the veil of such secrecy that it would not even acknowledge the killing of US citizens. The day before the speech, the administration revealed for the first time that it had killed four Americans with drones—only one of whom, Anwar al-Awlaki, was actually targeted. This ends the administration’s unconstitutional practice of killing citizens in secret. During the speech, moreover, President Obama announced that he has issued a Presidential Policy Guidance setting forth the substantive criteria and procedures for employing drone strikes outside active areas of combat. Although those guidelines are themselves classified, the White House issued an unclassified summary, and the rules appear to narrow the previously understood criteria for such strikes in important ways.

The problem, as Jonathan S. Tobin writes, is that the president covers all his bases, and has presented a speech in which he seeks to satisfy both critics and supporters of his old terrorism policy.  He wants an end to an “endless” war, although al-Qeda and our other opponents have not ended their war against our country. How can one side say its war is continuing, and the other simply pretend that it is not going on? It is so reminiscent of the left’s suggestion in the waning days of the Vietnam War that our leaders simply say that we have won and unilaterally withdraw.

We may actually do that now, but does anyone really think that once we leave Afghanistan, the Taliban won’t move to quickly take over that sad country and once again make it a haven for terrorists and their training camps? The president acknowledged that “our nation is still threatened by terrorists.” But he went on to argue that we are safer than we ever have been, and he repeated that al-Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated, so that now “America is at a crossroads.”

Then there is the critical question of ideology. The president said that “state-sponsored networks like Hezbollah” have engaged in acts of terror on behalf of political goals. He did not mention the state in question– Iran — or propose any measures that would effectively deal with the threat posed by the ayatollahs in control of that country, now on the verge of obtaining a nuclear weapon. He seemed to suggest that “radicalized individuals here in the United States” pose a threat, without mentioning who radicalized them and the nature of the belief system that spurred them on. We all know it is radical Islam.

Again, Obama harked back to the themes of his disastrous Cairo speech, referring to “a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets…is justified in pursuit of a larger cause.” The president assured the Muslim world that ideology is “based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam,” and he emphasized that “the vast majority of Muslims” do not share in the radical belief.

Here, the waffling is amazing. The truth is that radical Islam (a version in fact accepted by large numbers of Muslims in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere) and its adherents are at war with the United States and the West. President Obama is correct that we are not at war with Islam, but the problem is that our leadership does not seem to comprehend that if radical Islamists are at war with us, we cannot deal with their beliefs by simply ignoring that they exist and are dangerous. And although the Islamists may be a minority of Muslims, they are not only a loud and very vocal minority, but in absolute terms they number in the hundreds of thousands. Moreover, their ideology is accurately based on their reading of the Koran, of which they can cite chapter and verse to prove that they are motivated by Islam.

So again, turning to drones, the president presented the arguments on their behalf, after assuring us he is toning down their use. So if their use is beneficial, and here Obama made arguments similar to those of conservative supporters and opposite to those of liberals like David Cole, why is he then limiting their use? The president made the case for use of drones in a strong fashion, since, as he said, “doing nothing is not an option.” In these paragraphs, it is almost a different Obama speaking than the one cited favorably by the Times editors and David Cole. Here is one of the president’s most tough and strongly stated passages, in which he defends the drone attack that killed Anwar Awlaki:

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.

And here is Obama’s defense of drones, and of the military action we have taken to date:

Moreover, America’s actions are legal.  We were attacked on 9/11.  Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force.  Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.  We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first.  So this is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.

The above is true.  In that paragraph, the president seemed to acknowledge that others, motivated by Islamist thought, are fighting us in a real war. If that is the case, then why is he now proclaiming an end to the measures that to date have kept us safe, and promising to limit the very drones that he has argued have worked so well?  Could it be that his left-wing heart is fighting an internal battle with his own comprehension that measures he does not like have to be taken?

Finally, Obama turned to the question of freedom of the press. Here, he made  two contradictory statements. First, he said “we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field.” Thus law-breakers and leakers must be prosecuted for failing to protect classified information. Then he added that “I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.” Calling for a media shield law, he stated that “journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.” How will he square the circle? He answered that he has raised “these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concerns.” As we all know, Eric Holder is the very man who signed off on the DOJ’s and FBI’s investigation of Fox News journalist James Rosen, whom the FBI argued should be a co-conspirator for violating the Espionage Act of 1917!

So the president has given the nation a confused, contradictory, and sometimes powerful speech, one that each side will find things to agree with. He appears to not know which arguments he has presented he really believes in, preferring to lay them out and have us put our trust in his hands. With a president as indecisive as ever, and continuing to lead from behind, our nation is supposed to hope that all will turn out well with Obama in charge. For many of us, that is not sufficient.

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Top Rated Comments   
Obama's speech in summary.

This Tuesday,which is Memorial Sunday...we will serve breakfast all day, and we close at noon, pull up a chair and sit on the floor, admission is at the door.

Stewardess, I speak gibberish.

We are not at war with those who are at war with us, we believe in defining for you the use of drones, which we will keep secret. We are at war with Al Qaeda which is no longer a threat because they are decimated. Reporters should have unfettered access to our closed door, invitation only meetings to give them their marching orders.

American citizens have no more right to be free of drone missile strikes than they are free of IRS personal attacks.

The Man Who Has Never Been Informed is informing us...because this IS the most transparent administration ever...after all.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama is surprisingly clear in his hatred of traditional America. Hatred of conservative groups opposed to his agenda is freely and unambiguously expressed. Yet, Islam he treats with a special deference and one that any sane person understands it doesn’t deserve. If Islam was a non-issue to this incredible misfire of president we would be left scratching our collective heads over the animus he reserves for traditional America. But his deference toward Islam sheds all the light you need to illuminate where he’s coming from.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (21)
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News Quiz
1. What do Celia Roady and Medea Benjamin have in common?
2. Are the cheap theatrics of the Obama minstrel show an indication of an alarmingly sick administration?
3. Are these cheap, pathetic histrionics effective on low-information voters?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Please, what he really believes he learned both from islam and Screaming Rev. Wright. Yeah, and you can toss in Bomber Bill Ayers and of course Saul Alinsky.
The rest is instinct and pure hate.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you Mr. Radosh for an even tempered critique of the speech. I find things I agree with even in David Cole's view of the problems of drone warfare and I think Obama's defense of drones is well stated and accurate. But then of course there is the great disconnect. The notion that you can unilaterally end a war with an undefeated enemy. That in the strange calculus of this war against non state actors you can fail to mention the main state actor sponsoring those actors - Iran. This kind of denial is just not going to cut it as our unmentionable adversaries keep spiting in our face and double daring us to acknowledge them. I don't know where it will end but totalitarians have a way of getting in your face until you do something about it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Conflict in Obama? At most, he may appear pained during such a speech because he wants to say that he despises the US and its allies, and only fights Jihadis because otherwise sufficient opposition in the military and security establishment might actually effect his removal - especially given his sealed past.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
From diplomad blogspot -

How Many Times do We have to Hear about the Peaceful 99% of Muslims?
I was--big mistake--reading CNN and BBC reporting on the Religion of Peace's activities in London and Stockholm. Islam's Peaceful activities also have made themselves manifest in Paris, where a French soldier has been stabbed. I love the cautious, oh so very delicate reporting by BBC,

President Hollande also responded cautiously while on a visit to Ethiopia, telling reporters: "I do not think at this point that there may be a link" [with the London attack]
French reports said police were hunting a bearded man of North African origin about 30 years of age. He was wearing a light-coloured robe called a djellaba.
"We still don't know the exact circumstances of the attack or the identity of the attacker, but we are exploring all options."

Oh yes, that description is undoubtedly of a Mormon missionary, or perhaps a Hasidic Jew or a slightly disheveled Amish tourist?

I also adore the breathless reporting (here and here, for example) re the alarming "rise" in anti-Muslim "attacks." Note the source for the reports and take a grain of salt, a spoonful would be better, then let me know how many Muslims have been beheaded on the streets of London in the middle of day. How about zero for a number? How many Muslim immigrants in the UK are packing up, turning in their assistance cards, and moving back to Nigeria, Pakistan, Morocco, Bangladesh, etc? I'll bet that zero number remains a pretty accurate estimate for that, too.

I enjoy reading the comments from readers around the world on the BBC and CNN stories. There, and elsewhere, we see another number, a rather tired one: the "statistic" that "99% of Muslims" are not terrorists. Is that true? I don't know. From where does that number come? I don't know. Let's, however, go along with the gag. Let's assume it is accurate, and come up with our own equally valid "99%" statistics. Some samples follow; I am sure you can turn this into a drinking game--but not around Muslims because drinking offends them (unless they are Saudi diplomats in Islamabad).

Did you know that,

-- 99% of the Japanese did not attack Pearl Harbor?
-- 99% of the Nazis did not kill Jews or Gypsies, or invade Poland?
-- 99% of the Communists did not engage in Stalin's or Mao's purges?
-- 99% of the Germans killed in Dresden had never bombed England?
-- 99% of the Italians did not invade Ethiopia?
-- 99% of the Iranians did not occupy the US embassy in Teheran?
-- 99% of the Al Qaeda membership did not fly airplanes into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon?

And so on, and on, and so what? What does that "99%" prove? There are consequences in the real world to belonging to organizations or following ideologies and leaders that commit atrocities. That's the way it works. If 99% of Muslims are not terrorists, and do not support terrorism (that's the big "if") where are they? Why can't they control the crazies and murderers and rioters in their midst? If you can't you will find that you might just pay the price, even if you did not pull the trigger, or drop the cyanide gas. The Germans and the Japanese discovered that during World War II.

We see Britain's foolish PM Cameron making the typical foolish Western politician statement after the murder of the young British soldier (and let's not forget he is just following in the path of nonsense about Islam blazed by our own President Bush),

"This was not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act."

No, Mr. Prime Minister. Everything in Islam justifies this truly dreadful act and so many more. That is why the "99%" cannot condemn, isolate, or punish the murderers. That violence, that "extremism" is Islam; that is the real item. We need to deal with that hard and unpleasant fact. Islam has not gone through an enlightenment, and what "reformation" has taken place has moved it backwards, ever deeper into the thinking prevalent in the dark ages and places from whence it came.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
People affected with schizophrenia can recognize a great many elements of the environment they live in, but they cannot conceptualize how these things relate to each others. Under these conditions, attempts to describe one's perception come out as 100 percent vocabulary, and zero grammar!

A concrete example of these symptoms is given by a transcript of the speech. If Iran (the big one!) had been mentioned, most of the relevant factors would have received some recognition, but there is no cohesion as far as cause, effect, threat, risk, values, response, etc... It's good enough for folklore, but useless as national policy, which was already the case before! We have elected a grandiloquent noodle to the highest office, which is not too surprising after years of lefty indoctrination instead of the cultivation of critical thinking.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
never mind the speech, my question: is anyone else having a problem with the pompous ass filter on their television?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Let me be the one to remind you, that if sufficient numbers of conservatives had have bothered to get off of their lazy backsides to go out and vote in the last election, this schmuck would never have been reelected.

So if you didn't vote, you got exactly what you deserve.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The retard in chief has spoken. Herp derp.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“America is at a crossroads.” So does Obama suggest that we take it?

As far as his "...continuing to lead from behind, I propose that he is leading with his behind.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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