President Obama’s legendary intellectual dishonesty was on full display once again in his “The Future of our Fight Against Terrorism” address. In essence, the speech called for a pullback, if not an end to, the “war” on terrorism. He prefaced this call with a quote from James Madison: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” And he pushed it home by emphasizing the duration of the “war” and the resulting national weariness.
Yet until yesterday, Obama didn’t especially like to speak about our confrontation with terrorism as a “war.” Indeed, even the title of yesterday’s speech refers to it as a “fight.” But in the body of the speech, it was a war.
Why the pivot? Because “war” is an easy target. For one thing, it lends itself to quotations such as the one above from James Madison that have no applicability to our struggle against terrorism. Or does Obama believe, as the Code Pink lady who interrupted him does, that we are losing our freedom as a result of the war on terrorism as he has carried it out?
More importantly, Obama knows the nation is “war weary.” By pivoting to the war metaphor, Obama hopes to parlay that weariness into the termination of policies that make him, but not most Americans, weary.
It’s vintage Obama: identify a linguistic commonality between left-wing dogma and mainstream thinking — here “war weariness” — and through shameless punning — here of the word “war” — try to make left-wing dogma seem mainstream. You could argue that Obama’s political success is based, more than anything else, on this form of dishonesty.
Yes, Americans are weary of shooting wars like the one we fought in Iraq and the one we are winding down in Afghanistan. But they are not weary of holding hard-core terrorists at Gitmo. And they are not weary of killing terrorists at no cost in American lives through drone strikes. Nor is there any evidence that they are weary of deploying forces at bases near potential trouble spots so that our forces can respond to attacks against U.S. interests more effectively than the Obama administration did in Benghazi.
In short, war weariness can justify ending the two shooting wars we’ve fought since 9/11 (which is a done deal) and not participating in new wars in places like Syria. But it cannot justify the scale-back in the fight against terrorism that Obama now has in mind.
It is only Obama and the hard-left that is weary of detaining terrorists indefinitely. It is only Obama and the hard-core left that is weary of drone strikes.
Nor can rhetoric about preserving our freedom justify a scale-back in the struggle against terrorism. Our freedom is threatened by IRS abuses and pretextual harassment of journalists — not by detaining foreign terrorists or using drones against them.
Obama didn’t become president so he could protect America against terrorists — that mission is too pedestrian and perhaps too parochial. He doesn’t enjoy being a war president, even in the limited sense that he still is one. And, to his credit, Obama doesn’t relish signing off on targeted killings. Thus, now that he doesn’t have to worry about another election, he wants to back off.
But being president isn’t just about doing what one wants. If Obama lacks the stomach to continue his popular and often successful first term efforts against terrorism, he should either have told Americans so during the election campaign or bowed out of office.
But how can we expect honesty from a man who has built a hugely successful career on dishonesty?