President Obama delivered a wide ranging speech on Thursday, laying out his vision for countering terrorism in his second term, including announcements on the use of drones, the future closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and the eventual end of the long war against al Qaeda.
Most importantly, Obama announced that he intends to work closely with Congress to “refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Passed in the aftermath of 9/11, the AUMF gave the president broad authority to carry out military action against “those nations, organizations, or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 2001 attack.
“Groups like [Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States,” Obama said. “Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.”
Congress recently began its first set of hearings into possible revisions of the AUMF, which is about to enter its twelfth year in force. Currently, there are competing proposals in the Senate and House to either repeal the authorization in its entirety or revise it to allow for the use of force beyond the perpetrators of 9/11. Obama, however, refused to go along with any broadening of the AUMF, saying he “will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.”
CAP expert Ken Gude hailed Obama’s commitment to repealing the AUMF as the “beginning of the end” of the war against al Qaeda. While remnants of al Qaeda and new groups remain threats, “the extraordinary military response that followed the attacks of 9/11 embodied in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force can now be wound down, the permanent war footing retired, and we can rebalance our efforts to fight terrorism to rely more on our effective and efficient law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” Gude told ThinkProgress.
In his speech today, Obama continued: “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” The clear declaration builds upon previous statements from former members of Obama’s administration that the battle against al Qaeda cannot go on indefinitely.
That desire to eventually repeal the AUMF makes up the cornerstone of the counterterrorism strategy Obama laid out today. The current Obama administration approach to conducting targeting killing and other portions that strategy were only just recently codified, as Obama acknowledged in his remarks. In it, the use of drone strikes and other applications of force will be streamlined to a more limited set of targets, with a higher level of scrutiny applied when determining those targets, while a renewed focus on the other elements of preventing terrorism will be implemented.“We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root.” Obama expalined, laying out an argument for the expansion of U.S. efforts to “[address] the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism.” To drive home the point, Obama noted that the cost of a month during the Iraq War could pay for “training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.”
The closure of Guantanamo Bay also remains part of Obama’s overall end to operations against Al Qaeda. “Given my Administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened,” the president said. Prior to the speech, a senior White House official noted that while it was not the primary factor for the renewed push to close the base, “part of the context of that is people taking the drastic steps of hunger strikes in Guantanamo.”