“Here comes the orator! With his flood of words, and his drop of reason.” — Benjamin Franklin
Today President Obama gave a major televised foreign policy speech at the National Defense University where he addressed the issues of terrorism, drones and Gitmo.
The speech was way too long (one hour) and left you wondering at times what his point was. He drew sharp criticism from Republican senators for urging the repeal of the 2001 law that effectively authorized the war on terror.
The president addressed the law, known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), toward the end of an hour-long speech largely devoted to explaining and defending his administration's lethal drone program. He even referenced the fact that America is at war in defending the legality of the drone strikes. Obama stated:
“All these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact - in sometimes unintended ways - the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.
The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core Al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves Al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF's mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., claimed the president was assuming Al Qaeda is "on the run," calling that mindset "really incredible."
But Obama made clear that his ultimate goal is to update, and then repeal, the use of force law, saying he wants to fight terrorism without keeping the country on a "perpetual war-time footing."
"The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core Al Qaeda is a shell of its former self," Obama said. "Unless we discipline our thinking our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.
"So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF's mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further," he said. "Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."
The resolution was passed by Congress three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It authorized the military and president to use all necessary force to go after those responsible, and prevent future acts of terror. It remains in effect.
Obama will find support in Congress for revising and updating the law. Before the president's speech, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the original law is "increasingly unrelated to current terrorist threats."
But the call to repeal it stirred protests from some Republicans.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she was "troubled" to hear that.
"We remain at war with terrorists," she said, pointing to activity in Yemen and Somalia and the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. "Now is not the time where we can consider repealing the authorization for the use of military force."
McCain agreed. "I believe we are still in a long drawn-out conflict with Al Qaeda. To somehow argue that Al Qaeda is on the run, comes from a degree of unreality that to me is really incredible," he said, saying the terror network is "expanding" across the Middle East. "To somehow think that we can bring the authorization of the use of military force to a complete closure contradicts reality of the facts on the ground," he said.
The president tackled a host of tricky subjects in his speech today. He defended his administration's drone program, while saying his administration is setting new guidelines and opening the door to new levels of congressional oversight.
On his administrations drone policy Obama had this to say:
“It is in this context that the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against Al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones. As was true in previous armed conflicts, this new technology raises profound questions - about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality.
Let me address these questions. To begin with, our actions are effective. Don't take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden's compound, we found that he wrote, “we could lose the reserves to the enemy's air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.'' Other communications from Al Qaeda operatives confirm this as well. Dozens of highly skilled Al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers, and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.
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.
And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America's legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power - or risk abusing it. That's why, over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists - insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.”
He also renewed his call to close Guantanamo Bay, pushing to resume transfers of detainees from the prison camp. This is where this long, boring and repetitive speech got a bit interesting.
“The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The original premise for opening GTMO - that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention - was found unconstitutional five years ago. In the meantime, GTMO 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 GTMO. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people -almost $1 million per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep GTMO open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home.
As President, I have tried to close GTMO. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense. After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from GTMO with Congress's support. When I ran for President the first time, John McCain supported closing GTMO. No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most GTMO detainees. Given my Administration's relentless pursuit of Al Qaeda's leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.
Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.
Even after we take these steps, one issue will remain: how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks, but who cannot be prosecuted - for example because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.”
It was at this point of his speech that President Obama was interrupted three times by a woman who shouted about drones and detainees in Cuba as he delivered a speech on national security.
The woman was identified as Medea Benjamin from the anti-war group Code Pink. Benjamin yelled from behind a bank of cameras before security removed her from the hall at National Defense University in Washington.
Obama said at one point he was willing to "cut the young lady some slack" because the issues he was addressing are worth being passionate about.
Benjamin shouted, quote, "86 were cleared already. Release them today!"
It was almost as if Benjamin was a plant by the White House to give Obama some simpatico. He allowed her some time to mouth off with Code Pink’s blabber for quite a while before she was escorted from the building, something she was used to and is often her goal.
Two more points Obama made before leaving this topic. Firstly were his remarks about leakers and journalists. Where he said:
“The Justice Department's investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As Commander- in Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.
Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over- reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.”
Who is he kidding? Eric Holder to come back with a report is like having the fox guard the chicken house. It was Holder’s Justice Department that initiated investigations into the AP and Fox News’ James Rosen. What he should have said is I have asked for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation and urged him to appear before a Congressional committee and tell the truth. I know that is a fantasy and won’t happen. I wonder what Holder, like J. Edgar Hoover had on almost everyone in Washington, D.C., has on Obama.
Finally he said the War on terror must end:
“Now make no mistake: our nation is still threatened by terrorists. From Benghazi to Boston, we have been tragically reminded of that truth. We must recognize, however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions - about the nature of today's threats, and how we should confront them.
These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation - and world - that we leave to our children.
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. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do - what we must do - is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.”
For Obama to quote James Madison borders on sacrilegious. During his entire political career Obama has never expressed any of the principles of Madison or any other Founders.
In order to end any war you need two sides to agree to do so. This happened in 1918, 1945, and 1954. So far there is no indication that the jihadists have given any indication that are willing to negotiate an end to their terrorism. As long as they want to kill us the war will go no matter what form it takes.
The question that comes to mind is the timing of this speech. Obama gave this address on Thursday, the day before the government and the press begins to close down for the long Memorial Day Weekend. It was an opportunity to deflect the story from the Benghazi, IRS, and journalist scandals.
The Weekly Standard reported that early this week liberal pundits gathered in the West Wing. National Public Radio reporter Ari Shapiro reports that liberal pundits were seen entering the West Wing. The pundits include Jonathan Capehart, Josh Marshall, and Ezra Klein.
It also should be noted that Lois Lerner was placed on administrative leave today. Once again the announcement was made prior to the beginning of the long Memorial Day Weekend. Fox News reported:
“Sources confirmed to Fox News earlier Thursday that Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversaw the unit targeting conservative groups, had been placed on administrative leave, with pay.
But Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, claimed she was only put in that status after refusing to step down.
He said the commissioner was in his right to demand her resignation, and said taxpayers should not continue to pay her salary indefinitely.
“She had an opportunity to disclose the targeting to Congress days before her disclosure at a legal conference and didn't do it,” Grassley said in a statement. “Then she gave the impression that the issue came up independently at the conference, when it really was a plant that she arranged. The IRS owes it to taxpayers to resolve her situation quickly. The agency needs to move on to fix the conditions that led to the targeting debacle."
Capitol Hill sources said Lerner, the director of exempt organizations, was placed on paid leave Thursday, amid calls from some lawmakers for her to be suspended or fired. In her absence, Ken Corbin, the current deputy director of the submission processing, wage and investment division, will take over her duties, according to an internal IRS memo obtained by Fox News.”
This will give the Obama media plenty of time to send their acolytes out on the talk shows over the weekend to push Obama’s national security speech and obfuscate the Benghazi, IRS and journalism scandals while Congress is not in town for the next week and the hearings are in recess. This is a good time to have your barbeque with your burgers and hot dogs, remember our fallen and visit the local office of your representative to make your beliefs