On Sunday, President Barack Obama addressed the American people in the aftermath of what the FBI has now classified as a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead and 21 injured. The speech was, in many ways, routine – a mixture of Obama’s standard terrorist attack and mass shooting speeches that he has had to give multiple times during his presidency – but with one noteworthy addition: openly embracing a limitless and endless war scheme.
After President Obama vomited out the predictable platitudes about peace and freedom, he made a sharp right turn explaining that not only would the US continue its wars in Iraq and Syria, but that “our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary.”
That is a profoundly expansive policy statement and one that gives President Obama limitless power to wage war anywhere on the planet. The one domestic limitation to this power under US constitutional law would be, in theory, Congress. Yet the Obama Administration has already said it does not require further authorization beyond the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to conduct war in Iraq and Syria, with Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifying before Congress that “[T]he lawyers tell me that we don’t technically need [a new AUMF]… We can conduct what we need to do within the law.”
Despite that claim, President Obama said in his speech that Congress should pass a new AUMF [PDF] anyway. Obama said the vote for a new AUMF would “demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.” In other words, Obama claims to already have the power, but would appreciate the symbolism and political cover of a vote in Congress. Not exactly checks and balances.
Beyond the limitless scope of President Obama’s claims concerning where he will deploy US military force is the question of when this “war” will end.
Obama claimed in his speech that the current strategy will lead to “a more sustainable victory” that “won’t require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.” But is there any evidence for that claim?
If anything, the Obama Administration’s interventions have yielded more chaos in the region, with Libya perhaps providing the best example. Mass bombing and drone strikes have done nothing but sow more discontent and antagonism towards the US. And, as the failed presidency of George W. Bush showed, ground forces and occupation are options just as bad, if not worse.
Though politicians of both parties – including leading 2016 presidential candidates – try to strike a muscular pose and claim the world needs “American leadership,” the reality is that that leadership has been a net-negative for much of the world and certainly the American people. Tons of cash, oceans of blood, and nothing good to show for it.
If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then it is rather insane to continue to promote US leadership in the Middle East and expect a better and safer world.