Fact Checking Obama’s Big Speech
The Obama administration is hemorrhaging credibility. His speech at the National Defense University was meant to help that. It was a moment in the national spotlight, a Memorial Day weekend speech that was supposed to set the tone for the weekend news cycle. A speech meant to bolster the Obama image to those losing faith in the promised hope and change that seem to elude his oversight. But many people were unimpressed, and the defining moment in the speech was not a policy, but a protestor.“We unequivocally banned torture, affirmed our commitment to civilian courts, worked to align our policies with the rule of law, and expanded our consultations with Congress.”
This really depends on how you define torture. When making this change President Obama required that all interrogations follow the guidelines of the Army Field Manual. The thing is, when the Justice Department reviewed the manual, it recommended no changes be made for the administration that was “banning” torture. Now this is not to say the situation has not improved, but many still argue that the Army Field Manual has “torture loopholes” that have been and continue to be exploited under the Obama administration.“Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us.”
Many military experts contradict this claim. While most of the senior Al Qaeda leadership is dead, we have precious little information (at least publically) about whether or not others were promoted to senior leadership to fill the spots of those killed. Moreover, the Haqqani network, an Al Qaeda affiliate is alive and strong in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and there is much to suggest that after our combat mission in Afghanistan ends next year Al Qaeda and the Taliban will return to the new and vulnerable Afghanistan from the mountainous border regions they now inhabit.“And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based.”
This statement is mostly true, but it is misleading and deceptive, and one a President should be clearer about. Most of the Al Qaeda operations have been in other nations, true, but the President seems to suggest this is their goal; their “focus”. If a terror organization is focused on their own region, this would suggest that American and western targets are secondary, and that we are safer because of that. Local terrorists are not local by choice, but by limitation. While the Obama administration deserves much credit–which I happily and thankfully give them–for these limitations, given the chance, as President Obama states in his speech, these terrorists “right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first.” America is the pinnacle Al Qaeda and many other terror organizations focus, and President Obama should not assert a false sense of security by suggesting otherwise.“[W]e’ll face more localized threats like what we saw in Benghazi, or the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives — perhaps in loose affiliation with regional networks — launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations. So that’s the current threat — lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We have to take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.”
This statement is a resounding truth. Nothing like 9/11 has happened on any other day before or after that tragic morning. So long as we keep our intelligence and surveillance active, this type of attack is, though possible, difficult approaching impossible. However, the intelligence community is not perfect, and no one can guarantee it will not happen again, but it would take another perfect storm, so to speak. You and I, sitting in our comfortable homes in America, are more likely to be killed by dogs than terrorists.“Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.”
While this is also true, there is no mention of the civilian life lost to drone strikes. Patriotslog overall is a supporter of drone use in combat, though I would like to see more prudence than the Obama administration has shown in their drone use. Drones do save more lives then they end, even when civilians are taken into account. But a perfectly honest President would have addressed civilian collateral damage. This seems to suggest drones only save lives.“Moreover, America’s actions are legal. 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. 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.”
This is the perfect factual and legal justification for drone strikes. Completely true, and eloquently stated.“Over the last four years, my administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists –- insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability.”
Evidence shows that, though legal and justified as stated above, drone use by the Obama administration has been reckless. The err has not been on the side of caution, but action under President Obama. This is why there have been so many reports of civilian casualties.“…by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we’ve made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.”
To reduce the need is a very vague goal; particularly when one considers the lack of information we have on what current operational numbers actually are. This statement is nothing but a spoonful of sugar to those who oppose drones unless we get specific information on how much and to what level the administration intends to reduce strikes.“And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.”
As stated before, the default seems to be on the side of action, not caution. Leaked information shows the disturbing reality of the default use of drones by this administration.“To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties — not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold. Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes. So doing nothing is not an option.”
This is perhaps the most important statement in the entire speech. Terrorism kills more Muslims, by a huge proportion, than it does westerners. It is a weekly, sometimes daily it seems, event that a downtown bombing in an Afghan or Iraqi town kills scores of innocent Muslim civilians. “I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion we need to have about a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy — because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe.” This message should be the core of our counterterrorism approach. Public relations are as important, or more so, than military force. Without drone strikes, without American soldiers, without military force, many, many more Muslim civilians would die.“So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world.”
This is true. Studies have concluded that the two major causes of anger toward the United States from Islamic communities and from Islamic extremists are the feeling that we occupy their land, and our alliance with Israel. While drones are beginning to have this same effect, if we can convey the message that they will ultimately save lives, drone strikes can result in less civilian deaths and create less enemies.“The very precision of drone strikes and the necessary secrecy often involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.”
What you don’t realize is that President Obama actually finished this statement with a silent parenthetical “trust me on this one, I am speaking from experience.” Drone strikes have been the default; not that that is necessarily a bad thing, as long as caution and prudence is used, which appears not to be the case with this administration.“This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt and Tunisia and Libya–because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as a rebuke to violent extremists. We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating the extremist elements.”
So far, supporting revolutions has not worked out well for us. Iran and Afghanistan are the most convincing examples. Substituting stability for democracy is not always the best choice. The extremist elements in Syria will continue fighting long after the revolution is over until they gain power. Fighting against Assad may come back to haunt us as was the case in Benghazi. Egypt used to be an ally, now they are an unstable wildcard, as are Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. Iran is a flat out enemy now. Picking sides in a civil war or revolution has rarely turned out well for the United States, and it may not turn out well in Syria.“Thwarting homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part because of our proud commitment to civil liberties for all who call America home.”
Now, I am not saying we should keep GTMO open; it works as an effective recruiting tool for terrorists, and we could accomplish the same goal through other prisons. However, it is hypocritical, if not downright deceitful, for President Obama to suggest that international aid is not a large expense on the budget (though he is correct, $20+ billion is around 1% of the budget) but turn around and emphasize the $150 million per year for GTMO, as if that were a large expense. There may be many reasons for closing Guantanamo Bay, but money is not one of them.
The speech seemed to be aimed at scoring political points, not real policy reform. While I think it is the best policy for America to wind down international involvement, rein in our drone trigger finger, relay a strong message that terrorism kills more Muslims than anyone else, and focus more on local terror threats the speech itself was very underwhelming. There were too few commitments, too little substance, and too many vague details to really get me excited about anything President Obama suggested he would do.
25 May 2014
Posted on May 27, 2013, in Patriotslog Articles and tagged afghanistan pakistan, drone speech, drone strikes, drone warfare, drones, libya, memorial day speech, memorial day weekend, middle-east, national defense university, national spotlight, Obama announces drone policy, Obama closing guantanamo bay, obama heckled at speech, obama heckler, politics, war on terror. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.