Obama Clarifies Counterterrorism Doctrine

Seeking to summarize his own eight years of leadership and to provide “a foundation for the next administration,” President Barack Obama detailed his administration’s counterterrorism doctrine in a major speech at MacDill AFB, Fla., Tuesday afternoon. Obama said that the US military is “breaking the back of ISIL” but that the larger threat of radical terrorism “will take a generation to resolve.” As such, he criticized what he called “false promises” to eliminate the terrorist threat quickly through “more bombs and more troops” deployed around the world. Instead, he advocated a “long view,” which would produce a “smart strategy that can be sustained.”

Obama offered seven principles for waging such a global counterterrorist campaign. First is “keeping the threat in perspective.” While the threat is “real and dangerous,” it is “not an existential threat to our nation.” Second, “we cannot follow the paths of other great powers” who “defeated themselves through overreach.” To avoid this, Obama advised that the US deploy troops with “a clear mission” and only when absolutely necessary. Third, Obama rejected a return to the use of torture in military interrogations, saying “upholding our values and adhering to the rule of law is not a weakness. It is our greatest strength.” Fourth, “we have to fight terrorists in a way that does not create more terrorists,” by continuing to make use of targeted drone strikes instead of increased airstrikes or ground troops, which lead to more civilian casualties and put more US troops at risk. Fifth, Obama said that “transparency and accountability serve our national security,” and he announced the release of a report outlining the legal basis for his administration’s counterterrorism strategy. He also called on Congress to reauthorize the use of military force, which he said it had not done since 2001. Sixth and seventh, he called on the US to “draw on the strength of our democracy” and to “uphold the civil liberties that define us” by refusing religious tests for immigration and offering clear guidelines and limits in the use of intelligence gathering.

Obama argued that such a doctrine was necessary to “separate us from tyrants and terrorists” and to make the US a nation committed to “hope and not fear.”