Is the war on terror over yet? Sorry, it’s just begun – Obama’s challenge is to extract counterterrorism strategy from the dark side
From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
April 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Obama administration inherited many toxic legacies from its Bush/Cheney predecessor. At the top of the list has to be the “war on terror,” first proclaimed shortly after 9/11 and set in doctrinal stone in the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy. Many Obama supporters, in the United States and abroad, would like nothing better than to forget the whole thing and concentrate on the rest of a full hand of troubles – the economy, energy transformation, the climate, the health of the planet. But the war on terror isn’t going away.
Dick Cheney famously proclaimed that the U.S. would have to go over “to the dark side” to combat terrorist threats. That dark side gave us Guantanamo, a whole string of executive orders that flouted the law and stretched presidential prerogatives, CIA secret prisons abroad, and “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists into the willing hands of jailors in a variety of Middle Eastern countries.
Barack Obama’s challenge is to extract counterterrorism strategy from the dark side and infuse it with a renewed respect for legal and democratic norms, and a concern for America’s reputation abroad. There will have to be a serious effort not just to launch missiles against terrorists but also to wage a sustained hearts and minds campaign.
There has been some impressive early action. On his second day in the White House, Mr. Obama signed three executive orders. Those orders required the Guantanamo detention facility to be closed within 12 months; instituted an immediate review of detainee policy, targeted at the CIA’s practice of maintaining secret prisons and rendering suspects to foreign lands; and ordered a return of U.S. interrogation practices to the Geneva Conventions standards.
The first shot in Mr. Obama’s hearts and minds campaign came the following week when he gave his first interview to an Arab TV network (Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al Arabiya). He talked about the need for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, ultimately, for an independent Palestinian state. He said he was intent on explaining to the Muslim world that “Americans are not your enemy,” that the well-being of the Muslim world was crucial and that the U.S. would use what he called the “language of respect” in its dealing with Muslim countries. Sweet talk for the moderate Muslim ears that American policy counts on. The President also has released a video directed at the Iranian people, urging them to embrace a new spirit of reconciliation.
Mr. Obama’s next foray into Muslim hearts and minds will occur when he fulfills his promise to deliver an address from a “Muslim capital.” This promise, like the presidential review of Guantanamo, has a clock ticking. The visit and address are to take place within 100 days of his taking office; whether it’s in a relatively safe place (one of the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, Indonesia?) or somewhere more audacious (Pakistan?) remains to be seen. But place your bets on safe.
Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/y88c9hl