The counter-terrorism policy outlined in the president’s speech today hardly describes my ideal approach, but most, if not all, of the changes he’s made or is proposing are steps in the right direction. These include
–continuing the reduction in the number of combat troops in Afghanistan,
–declassifying information on Americans killed in drone strikes,
–reviewing proposals for additional oversight of the targeted killing program,
–putting stronger protections in place against government overreach in investigating leaks,
–revising and ultimately repealing the authorization to use military force (AUMF), and
–closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and finding a way to deal with the detainees there that is more consistent with the rule of law.
In general, the president was describing a further shift away from the grand “global war on terror” paradigm that he inherited from the Bush administration, and toward treating terrorism as a more discrete, targeted problem. Citing America’s experience in the 80s and 90s, he suggested that terrorism can be dealt with in a more piecemeal fashion rather than as a broad existential struggle.
Needless to say, everything hinges on whether Obama makes good on these changes, and even if he does, there will still be plenty to criticize about the United States’ approach to counter-terrorism. (In particular, I’m still a skeptic of the targeted killing program, even with additional oversight.) But I do find it heartening that all these changes are in the direction of a less aggressive, more constrained approach.