President Obama Offers To Roll Back Executive Power

In a rare move for a sitting president, Barack Obama offered to undo some of the powers given to the executive branch by congress in the aftermath of 9/11. But is this enough?

President Obama - National Defense University - photo by AP

“America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” said President Obama during a speech at the National Defense University. “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.” Well isn’t that refreshing to hear! I thought the “War on Terror” would be fought until victory was achieved — no more terrorism. Well, at least that’s the lie we would have to tell ourselves to justify such a war.

Of course President Obama, as Politico points out, is largely debating himself on issues of national defense post-9/11. He has led an administration just as hawkish on anti-terrorism as the previous administration. In fact, when it comes to use of targeted drone strikes, Obama has one-upped his predecessor. So excuse me for being a bit cynical when I hear this president say, “America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion.” It sure seems like it is. President Obama might not use rhetoric like when President Bush said, “you’re either with us, or against us,” but the president has conducted his foreign policy in much the same manner as Bush.

“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,” said Obama. “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.”

But can a nation be at war with an organization? Can a nation be at war against a tactic? Should a country as powerful as the United States allow its foreign policy to be dictated by what amounts to a few fringe radicals dispersed around the globe? And does it make a difference if they are loosely organized?

“Let’s think about this for a moment. A small group of ragged America-haters, who had one lucky day of mass murder nearly seven years ago, will continue to define the foreign policy of the lone superpower for years, possibly decades to come,” wrote Michael Hirsh in a 2008 Newsweek article.

“There’s something wrong with this picture. Yes, we can all agree that 9/11 was one of the worst moments in American history. And we can certainly agree that Al Qaeda must be completely eliminated. But the group has never come close to duplicating 9/11; even the train bombings in London and Madrid that were attributed to Al Qaeda-inspired cells were minor by comparison,” said Hirsh.

It’s become a comedic theme to say if we do or don’t respond in a certain way to a certain event, then the “terrorists win.” But America’s response to 9/11 is no joke. And regardless of the comedic use the “terrorist win” exposition, I’m still going to present two scenarios followed by a simple question. (a) We respond to 9/11 with intelligence and policing but NOT with open-ended military force, and our foreign policy is not defined by the tactic of a few. (b) We respond to 9/11 with overwhelming military force, in a never-ending war on terror, with no clear exit strategy and no clear path to victory, with a tunnel-vision focus on the tactics of a few, costing us trillions of dollars and counting. — Which one is a win for America and which one is a win for terrorists? You can call them false choices, but I still know which one I’m choosing.

Hirsh asked, “Are Al Qaeda and its ilk still really our number one challenge? What about global warming? What about the emergence of China, the resurrection of Russia, the decline of the dollar, the slackening of free trade, the spread of debt and disease, and the persistence of ethnic cleansing?”

Should combating a relatively small, on a world scale, loosely organized group of anti-American extremists be our top priority as a nation?

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