Thursday, September 11, 2014

"We have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom"

Up at the top of this blog you'll see a tab titled Ending the Indefinite War. For almost three years now I have been advocating that its time to start talking about ending what George Bush called "the global war on terror" and what President Obama refocused as the "war on al Qaeda." The explosion of ISIS on the scene in Iraq and Syria means that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. And so I'm dealing with my disappointment in having to let that go. But my disappointment is not directed at President Obama. It is focused where it belongs...on ISIS.

Back in May of 2013, President Obama gave a speech that indicated perhaps we could finally start talking about ending the indefinite war. I was ecstatic at the possibility. In my elation, I didn't focus as much on the reality that his speech was really an outline of how we move forward with a rational counterterrorism strategy. And so today I went back and re-read the speech. Its interesting to listen to what the President said about all this more than a year before he announced his plan for military intervention against ISIS. Take a look at some highlights.
Now, make no mistake, our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. But we have to recognize that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience now to draw from, this is the moment to ask ourselves hard questions -- about the nature of today’s threats and how we should confront them...

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be 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. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do -- what we must do -- is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom. 
The President went on to propose a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. He gave a lot of details, but summed it up here:
Targeted action against terrorists, effective partnerships, diplomatic engagement and assistance -- through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large-scale attacks on the homeland and mitigate threats to Americans overseas.
That has been President Obama's strategy all along. In that speech he invited us to ask the hard questions. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Instead we have had ongoing prescriptions from left libertarians who pretend like we can just ignore the problem and neocons who think every problem can be solved by simply invading yet another country. I believe that last night's speech from the President was an attempt to tamp down the fear so that perhaps we could get in touch with some of that hard-earned wisdom.

To be honest, I don't know if the President has chosen the right strategy for dealing with ISIS. I long for a discussion about what our options are that is based on seeing the situation as clearly as he laid it out over a year ago. Anyone who tells you that Obama's plan is either guaranteed to be a success or doomed to failure don't know what they're talking about. They are simply mouthing the surety of the ideologue.

What I do know is that by the time President Obama has made a tough decision like this, he's weighed all of his options and calculated the possible unintended consequences of each one. As he did when he made the decision to go after Osama bin Laden, he knows that at times like this, the risks of failure are very real and the consequences of that failure could be devastating. But until I see critiques apply the same process to their alternatives, I'll go with the guy who has demonstrated a pretty solid grasp of hard-earned wisdom.

1 comment:

  1. I thought of you while I was listening to the speech and knew you'd be disappointed. Good for you for making your way through to some form of understanding and acceptance.