I read the speech. I read it carefully. Again, an excellent speech; as a result, you have to read it closely to see what it is actually saying and what it is not saying.
The Obama administration is saying that the formal war against terrorism will come to an end…eventually. It is saying that the war was justified. It is also saying that the war against Iraq was misplaced, a point that the administration has been saying for a while.
Yet it is also saying that the U.S.A. went to war with a network. Let’s be clear that Al Qaeda is a very loose international network of terrorists. Are they deadly? Of course, but so is the Mafia. The notion of going to war with a network has always been problematic, particularly when that war justified targeted assassinations, bombings and invasions of various countries. It also became problematic when there was such a loose definition as to what constituted terrorism and, therefore, who actually is a terrorist and who supports terrorism.
This goes to a point that the president did not cover. The “war against terrorism” was never clearly defined as a war against Al Qaeda, though most people thought that that was the essence of it. Under the rubric of “terrorism,” all sorts of organizations were grouped, including groups that are engaged in military insurgencies but not terrorism, such as the Communist Party of the Philippines and their military wing, the New People’s Army. Also included in that list of terrorists has now been former Black Panther, Assata Shakur.
In other words, the war against terrorism has been used as a means of targeting a wide spectrum of individuals and organizations that have crossed paths with the U.S., irrespective of whether they have ever engaged in the targeted killings of civilians in order to advance a political agenda.
The president never renounced this.
The Obama administration felt compelled to speak out on its approach towards combating terrorism in part because of the growing storm around drone attacks. As I have said previously, drones are a weapon but the attacks could just as easily be happening as a result of piloted aircraft or snipers. The issues that this—and the former Bush administration—keep side-stepping have included the sovereignty of other countries; the failure to actually apprehend alleged terrorists and instead rely on targeted assassinations during which civilians have frequently been killed; and the question of whether targeted assassinations can be used within the borders of the U.S.
Like many people, I would like to believe that a new day is upon us. I would not hold my breath. This administration has been very hawkish on certain key international matters, including targeted assassinations. The long-term consequences of such hawkishness will probably be additional “blow back,” that is, actions taken against people in the U.S. as retribution.
We in the U.S.A. must speak up and demand clear and alternative policy rather than eloquent speeches. It will also necessitate that we stop cowering every time we hear the “T” word—terrorism.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.