Back to normal
It is time to declare victory in the war against al-Qaida and start the process of bringing the United States its defense structure, its judicial system and its respect for its own values to a post-war footing.
This was the gist of a major national security speech delivered Thursday by President Obama at the National Defense University. In it, he called, again, for closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and explained plans to put the use of deadly drone strikes against terrorist targets under a more structured and reviewed process. He once more challenged Congress to work with him to develop a new statutory basis for national security to replace the law passed in the understandably panicked wake of the terror attacks of 2001.
As befits our democratic system, critics on the right and the left will, and should, examine the president's ideas for their soundness and keep a wary eye on his willingness to live up to the principles he set down Thursday. But it will be of no benefit if all that happens is more partisan deadlock. The debate about our future national security policy should be a chance for people of all ideological persuasions to work out the best ideas for returning the United States to a land where the law is supreme, force is a last resort and the fear of attack is not used to justify overreaching government power or any other loss of traditional American ideas of liberty.
The extraordinary, often constitutionally and morally questionable, conduct of the war on terror under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama has been based on the Authorization to Use Military Force, basically a declaration of war against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and its allies and affiliates. It passed Congress while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoldering.
As Obama noted Thursday, that act is now nearly 12 years old. The threat from individuals and groups that mean America harm has not, and will never, go away. But enough has changed over those years that the leaders of Congress should accept the president's invitation to replace that act with a new, more limited, more appropriate set of rules. Rules that allow the executive branch to seek out and counter legitimate threats to our national security without casting so broad a net that it justifies everything from torture and secret prisons to searches of reporters' telephone records and the labeling of journalists as security threats.
Now is when we will find out if the president's many critics several of whom hail from Utah are interested in restoring the American values that the terrorists set out to destroy, or only in denying the president anything that smacks of success.