Call it G.W.O.T. or J.I.H.A.D., Obama is waging Bush’s war
By Kori Schake Assistant to the President John Brennan gave a speech yesterday, ostensibly a landmark address. He assured listeners that "the fight against terrorists and violent extremists has been returned to its right and proper place: no longer defining — indeed, distorting-our entire national security and foreign policy, but rather serving as a vital ...
By Kori Schake
By Kori Schake
Assistant to the President John Brennan gave a speech yesterday, ostensibly a landmark address. He assured listeners that "the fight against terrorists and violent extremists has been returned to its right and proper place: no longer defining — indeed, distorting-our entire national security and foreign policy, but rather serving as a vital part of those larger policies."
It is tempting to lampoon Brennan’s remarks for the risible and solipsistic rhetoric (e.g., "like the world itself, [Obama’s] views are nuanced, not simplistic; practical, not ideological.") — or to once again express my concern that the administration might actually believe the refrain that the president "rejects the false choice between ensuring our national security and upholding civil liberties." This seems to be mistaking slogans for solutions, as Edward R. Murrow cautioned against.
But the standard for measuring Brennan’s remarks is what they contain that is new policy. With the exception of Guantanamo, which the president has declared he’ll close but six months later has not yet provided a program to achieve, the program sounds remarkably like Bush administration practices. Defeat al Qaeda, check. Hold Afghanistan, check. Partnership with Pakistan, check. Sharing intelligence and training militaries in East Africa, check. Going after terrorist financing, check. Disrupting terrorist operations, check. Prevent terrorists from getting nuclear weapons, check. Ensure our military has the troops and the tools it needs, check. Strengthen the intelligence community, check. Defend the homeland, check.
Even in the areas Brennan was claiming radical departures from Bush policies there is striking continuity. Brennan showcased "ending the war in Iraq" as an administration achievement. He somehow forgot to mention the glide path was set by the Bush administration in signing the Statue of Forces Agreement before President Obama was even elected. All Team Obama did was not carry out the president’s campaign promise of a faster drawdown.
And in the doubling down on troops in Afghanistan without a political or economic or justice or drug strategy to bring a "whole of government approach" to the problem actually out-Bushes the Bush administration. Former Vice President Cheney would have much more damagingly rebuked Obama’s approach to national security by pointing out it is no different from Bush’s.
The only actual variance with Bush administration practice I found is rejecting the name "war on terror." There is considerable merit in this approach. Referring to a "war on terror" gives our enemies a validation we should be smart enough to deny them. It offends many who want to support us. Our preoccupation is not shared by other countries that are not the target of al Qaeda.
But it is unfair to the Bush administration to suggest they were not engaged with the Muslim world on issues of importance to those countries and societies. The Bush administration rightly understood the crisis in the so-called "Muslim world" about tolerance and modernity. Brennan says this challenge is "ultimately not a military operation but a political, economic, and social campaign to meet the basic needs and legitimate grievances of ordinary people." Absolutely right. Which is why the Bush administration put so much effort into issues like democracy promotion, poverty alleviation, free trade, security assistance, and disease eradication.
Brennan was not disavowing that we are fighting a war, nor that the enemy has a virulent religious ideology and uses the killing of civilians as a tactic. In fact, he reaffirmed it, quoting President Obama saying "our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." Brennan himself continues, "and to win this war against al Qaeda, the administration continues to be unrelenting, using every tool in our toolbox and every arrow in our quiver."
So the objective is no different, the full range of tools will continue to be used … only the name will be different. The fun will start when administration begins looking for some shorthand way to describe what is not the "global war on terror." The best entry into the acronym contest so far comes (not surprisingly) from a witty soldier I know in the military’s Special Operations Command: the Joint Interagency Homeland Active Defense, or JIHAD.
Let us hope the Obama administration really is changing so little in their approach to fighting the terrorist threats our country faces, and that they don’t believe their own rhetoric about there being no trade-offs between our values and our security. A change in the "war on terror" language is beneficial. But they should not misunderstand that good people are daily making decisions in which they have to make trade-offs between our values and the risks to our society. The Obama administration’s own language creates serious problems for these people as they protect the rest of us. As no less an expert on terror than Leon Trotsky tells us, "you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake
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