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May 28, 2013

Envisioning a world without terror

The Daily Star

---- — President Obama, just days before the nation was to have memorial services to honor the memory of our service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war, has tried to convince Americans that our war on terror is not perpetual, but must end — someday.

Obama has realized that the targeted killings abroad by drones and the attacks on civil liberties at home are also moral issues that are changing the nature of our nation and its people. Fear and threats to our freedom have come home.

“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,” Obama said.

The president is a long way from declaring victory, however, unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, who stood on an aircraft carrier 10 years ago this month to state the war in Iraq was essentially over. Years and thousands of deaths later, it was Obama who had to end that war.

As the war in Afghanistan began to wind down, the use of unmanned drones for attacks on suspected terrorists and their hideouts increased, despite criticism that they were used to kill American citizens abroad on several occasions and the collateral deaths of civilians in other raids.

The government had not addressed either issue, despite hearings held by some congressmen concerned about targeted killings of Americans and the civilian deaths. Until now.

Speaking at the National Defense University in Washington on Thursday, Obama defended the use of drones for attacks on suspected terrorists, and justified the possibility of civilian deaths during those attacks as ``necessary risks.’’

That’s too bad for the people of Pakistan or Yemen, two countries with which we are not at war, who are considered expendable if we think there might be a few potential terrorists living down the road.

Some estimates indicate that since 2002, at least 2,800 people have died in 420 covert drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of those killed, more than 400 are likely to have been civilians.

It’s understandable that Obama and our other leaders might be haunted by their deaths, but it’s also clear that they are willing to use all the powers at their disposal to stop terrorists before they commit acts of terror.

The goal, of course, is a world that has been freed from the shackles of fear, where people in most locales on Earth can’t go anywhere without facing the possibility of being shot or blown up. And that includes Americans, as illustrated by the shootings and bombings that now regularly occur in our own nation.

Some have believed that achieving such a goal required an eternal declaration of war against potential terror and a continuing infringement on the civil rights of Americans at home. To his credit, the president is not willing to sign on to that thinking and insists he eventually would like to repeal the post-9/11 perpetual war declaration.

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress three days after the 9/11 attacks has been used to justify everything from the Iraq war to drone killings to unwarranted surveillance of Americans. At times, however, the AUMF may be doing more to extend the terrorism and fear rather than achieve its intent to end them.

Referring to the AUMF, Obama said “Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, 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.”

Naturally, the president came under attack from both the left and the right. The former, dished out immediately by Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin, blasted Obama for not being willing to extend his talking points into action by ending drone strikes, and the latter for giving a speech that “will be viewed by terrorists as a victory.’’

And, as has been the case all too often in his presidency, they are both right.

It does give us some hope, however, when our commander-in-chief is willing to see an end to the war on terror. Perhaps one day we too can envision our nation returning to its fearless roots, growing again in freedom and democracy, unhindered by the constriction of terror.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.