Obama’s commitment to continue the current American anti-terror strategy has managed to upset both sides of the argument. At this point, Obama doesn’t have much to lose. He has a dwindling number of final days in the Oval Office, and he has made it clear that he intends to pursue his own brand of policy initiatives to the bitter end.
In case you missed Obama’s speech on December 6 (and believe me, you didn’t miss much new information), Obama doubled down on the current American anti-terror strategy, both here and abroad. He began by explaining that we had moved into a “new phase” of terrorism:
[Though the San Bernardino shooters had no formal connections to any terrorist group], it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.
Our nation has been at war with terrorists since Al-Qaeda killed nearly three thousand Americans on 9/11. . . . Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase. As we’ve become better at preventing complex multi-faceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society.
At the risk of upsetting the anti-gun lobby, I’ll give you the “bullet” points of Obama’s foreign and domestic anti-terror strategy.
On the international front, Obama will be “drawing on every aspect of American power” to:
- Pursue terrorist targets through international and cooperative military action
- Train and equip local allies in Iraq and Syria
- Disrupt financing, plots, and recruiting through international intelligence sharing and cooperation
- Negotiate for peace in the Middle East, especially in Syria
He was clear that he does not want a repeat of the war in Iraq. His administration will emphasize air strikes, the precise deployment of special forces, and collaboration with local anti-terror groups rather than full-scale ground invasions.
He had a few things to say about America’s domestic anti-terror strategy as well, some of which had to do with gun control measures. His reasoning for tighter gun control (he prefers the Orwellian “gun safety”) ran thusly:
I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures, but the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, no matter how effective they are, cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do and must do is make it harder for them to kill.
With that in mind, he recommended the following domestic actions:
- No one on the no-fly list should be able to buy a gun
- We should make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons
- We need stronger screening for those that come to America without a visa
- Americans need to pressure Congress to support current international anti-terror actions
He also had a few closing remarks on the nature of ISIS (he prefers calling it ISIL) and Islam. Basically, he encouraged Americans not to “turn against one another,” by which he meant we should not demonize all Muslim Americans for the actions of a few Muslims:
We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That too is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers. Part of a cult of death. And they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology.
He went on to encourage moderate Muslims here and abroad to combat radicalization with corrective information:
Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda promote. To speak out against not just acts of violence but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.
So what does all of this mean? It means that the United States will continue pursuing an anti-terror strategy that attempts to mitigate symptoms reactively but refuses to proactively address root causes.
For instance, Obama and other gun control advocates take it as a given that terrorists will certainly attempt terrorist actions here in the States. Their best hope is to “make it harder for them to kill” through stricter gun control measures, domestic surveillance, and immigration controls. This inherent pessimism fuels the steady recapitulation of failed international and domestic policies.
But there really is no need to be so pessimistic. For many decades, in spite of much looser regulations, controls, intelligence, and immigration policies, the US was largely free from terror attacks, both from citizens and aliens.
What changed, exactly? Obama claims that the internet made it possible for a radical minority to reach the ears of a larger audience. That’s a cute idea, but the question still remains: Why does the radical rhetoric resonate? It resonates because it is easy for poor and disenfranchised foreigners to consider the US an enemy. Between our domestic debauchery and our foreign interventionism, we have made ourselves odious to the world. I applaud Obama’s intentions to avoid entangling ground wars in the Middle East, but that is simply not enough. We absolutely must get out of the Middle East altogether. Assassinations, drone strikes, and air strikes are actually far more effective recruiting mechanisms for radical terrorist groups than boots on the ground. We need to stop intervening in other countries, period.
Furthermore, arming local governments has backfired and we need to stop doing it. The flat fact is that we created ISIS. We created a power vacuum in the Middle East and then placed a gift-wrapped armament package right in the middle of that power vacuum. That armament strategy has royally backfired and Obama’s solution is to send more arms to the Middle East. Just stawp.
In addition to basically giving guns to terrorists, Obama would also like to take guns from Americans—at least, the kinds of guns we could use to defend ourselves from terrorists. Because isn’t that the root of terrorism—our helplessness in the face of it? Allow the law-abiding citizens of America to have military-grade weapons if they can afford them. Encourage citizens to go through gun safety and marksmanship instruction before they purchase one of these weapons. I’m all for that. But make no mistake. The best way to end terrorism is to kill the fear. And the best way to kill the fear is to arm and train law-abiding citizens.
Obama ended his speech by saying that “freedom is more powerful than fear.” I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think he actually believes it. Upholding freedom in the face of terrorism takes extraordinary courage. We have already proven that we don’t yet possess that courage. I would like to see Obama actually make good on these words though. Go ahead, Obama. Allow us to be a free country again. Scale back the surveillance. Bring the troops back home. Stop toppling governments overseas. Stop drone-killing foreign terror suspects without trials. Stop restricting gun sales to law-abiding citizens. Let freedom ring. Sure, it will be scary at first. And it’s a big risk. But when the dust settles, America might be great and safe again. As it is, she is neither.