Remarks by the President at the National Defense University
By President Barack Obama
President Obama delivered a major address on national security at the National Defense University on 23 May 2013. He discussed terrorism, the relationship of American values and laws to combating terrorist threats, drone warfare, and closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. While mainstream media generally praised his address (the New York Times was quite complimentary), individual reactions and blogs varied.
Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA official now teaching at Georgetown University, a "realist" commentator normally critical of Administration policy, was enthusiastic in praise: "... one of the most sensible, realistic, thorough and truthful statements about terrorism and counterterrorism from any senior official, let alone a president". But the speech was criticized from both right and left. Charles Krauthammer concluded that Barack Obama makes a better law professor than president. From the left, Professor Norman Pollack of Michigan State University, a Guggenheim Fellow, sneered sarcastically that, "Obama spoke with becoming assurance--to me, arrogance--as the leader of the Enlightened World in its struggle against the forces of ignorance, darkness, covetousness, wholly oblivious to America's moral sense and good intentions".
The president avoided the term "war on terror", implying his understanding of its misleading inaccuracy. He argued that military force should not be the central vehicle of American foreign and security policy. He expressed his satisfaction that we had withdrawn our combat forces from Iraq and were in process of doing so from Afghanistan. He said that, although a risk of individual terrorist acts remained and would be with us, the major body of Al Qaeda strength had been destroyed. We were faced with individual offshoots in, e.g., Yemen, the Maghreb, Somalia, Pakistan, still locally dangerous but lacking global leadership or coherence. He emphasized the importance of moving against the social roots of terror through enhanced assistance programs, through a focus more upon diplomacy than on force.
Ever the politician, he included a whopper: "Our alliances are strong and so is our standing in the world", as though polls worldwide, even among our European allies, did not show a dismal decline in trust and respect for the...