We may look back at President Obama’s speech yesterday declaring a shift in counter-terrorism strategy, as one of the most important addresses of the last 20 years.
For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, helping to explode 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. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
It has been the contention of this writer that American renewal cannot begin until “The Long War” ends. Part of the problem is the President’s realization how right Madison really was.
Meanwhile, we strengthened our defenses, hardening targets, tightening transportation security, giving law enforcement new tools to prevent terror. Most of these changes were sound. Some caused inconvenience. But some, like expanded surveillance, raised difficult questions about the balance that we strike between our interests in security and our values of privacy. And in some cases, I believe we compromised our basic values — by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.
So a good start in restoring Democracy will be to change the Administration’s policy on Press Freedom.
President Obama ordered a review on Thursday of the Justice Department’s procedures for legal investigations involving reporters, acknowledging that he was “troubled” that multiple inquiries into national security leaks could chill investigative reporting.
But the much bigger task will be to rethink the whole National Security State that has grown exponentially since 9/11. So while I agree with Obama that, “we must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America”, that does not mean we need the massive domestic counter-terrorism industrial complex that has gorged itself on the public treasury with little to show for it as the Washington Post pointed out in their breakthrough “Top Secret America”.
We have a long way to go before we can really begin America 3.0–the renewal project I have been talking about since the eve of the 2008 market crash. Obama’s speech yesterday was a start down that road. Let us not underestimate the forces that profit from being in a perpetual state of war. Senator Saxby Chamblis spoke for them yesterday.
Some Republicans expressed alarm about Mr. Obama’s shift, saying it was a mistake to go back to the days when terrorism was seen as a manageable law enforcement problem rather than a dire threat.
“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.”
I have been feeling that Washington is just some sort of reality show, in which everyone–politicians, press and lobbyists are playing their role according to a script. But this fight over the end of the Global War on Terror is actually important to those of us who believe power and taxes must be handed over to the states and cities. Ultimately the whole Federal establishment will get smaller. Congressional Staffs, Federal Bureaucracies and most importantly the Pentagon and Homeland Security will shrink. The DC property bubble will burst and Lobbyists will be less important. How long Saxby Chambliss and his forces can fight a rear guard effort against the inevitable is probably the most important story of the next 12 months.