In an address remarkable for both its candor and its humility, President Barack Obama sought last month to limit the scope of his predecessor's global war on terror, pivoting from a full-court campaign of military pre-emption to a new era of proportionality and political engagement.
Squarely confronting critics who have decried his administration's unprecedented use of unmanned drone strikes and its continuing detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, the president pledged to curtail both practices and called on federal lawmakers to facilitate the transition to a containment effort that relies less heavily on military force.
He said Gitmo has become "the symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law" and warned that "history will cast a harsh judgment" if the U.S. continues to imprison suspects indefinitely without prosecuting them before criminal juries or military tribunals on American soil.
For Obama, the address to the National Defense University was an effort to distance both his presidency and the United States from the open-ended war on terror then-President George W. Bush declared in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He noted that five years have passed since "the premise for opening Gitmo -- that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention -- was found unconstitutional." And he acknowledged that casualties inflicted on innocent civilians have damaged U.S. credibility with both the people and governments of strategically important allies.
Among the most refreshing themes in the address was Obama's call for the expanded use of diplomacy and foreign aid, both of whose effectiveness has been grossly underestimated. As the president noted, current expenditures on foreign assistance constitute "only a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent."
A single speech will scarcely bring about the sea change Obama seeks. But the shift in focus and tactics that he outlined is both worthwhile and long overdue, and America's long-term efforts to contain terrorism can only be enhanced by its swift implementation.
-- Detroit Free Press