There is another feature of the Obama approach that bears scrutiny. The discipline and care associated with his plea for a more restrictive approach to counter-terrorism is basically entrusted to the suspect subjectivities of governmental good faith in Washington.
At least the Wikileaks disclosures should have taught American citizenry that secrecy at high levels of public sector policymaking is intended to place controversial behavior of government beyond public scrutiny and democratic accountability.
Obama is asking the American people to put their trust in the judgment and values of bureaucrats in Washington so as to ensure that democracy can be restored in the country, and a better balance struck between security and the freedoms of the citizenry. Perhaps, while waving the banner of national security, you can fool most of the people most of the time, but hopefully there are limits to such bromides from on high despite a compliant media.
It should be noticed that the Obama presidency has done more to prevent and punish breaches of governmental secrecy than any previous political leadership. In relation to the criminality disclosed by Wikileaks the reaction was to do its best to prosecute the messenger while totally ignoring the message.
In most respects, the song that Obama sang at the National Defense Univerity did not conform to the melody. Obama refrained from taking what would have been the most natural and welcome step: belatedly putting the genie of war back in its box, and finally reject this dysfunctional blending of war and crime.
After all the deaths and displacements of the wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq were major failures from the perspective of counter-terrorism, and it would appear that such an adjustment was overdue.
The root error committed immediately after 9/11 was to move the fight against Al Qaeda and international terrorism from the discourse of crime to the framework of war without any kind of thoughtful rationale or appreciation of the adverse consequences. In the traumatic atmosphere that prevailed after the attacks, this rushed transition to war was partially done under the influence of neocon grand strategy that had been actively seeking a global writ to intervene well before the attacks occurred, especially in the Middle East.
The Bush entourage made no secret of its search for a pretext to take advantage of what was then being called ‘the unipolar moment,’ a phrase no longer in fashion for obvious reasons. It needs to be remembered that back before 9/11 the Democrats were being chided for their wimpish foreign policy during the 1990s that wasted what was alleged to be a rare opportunity to create the sort of global security infrastructure that was needed to realize and protect the full potential of neoliberal globalization, which included a preoccupation with ensuring that the oil reserves of the Gulf remained accessible to the West.
Although the United States has been chastened by its military setbacks in recent wars, its underlying grand strategy has not been repudiated or revised, and even now with so much at stake politically and militarily, there are strong pressures mounting to intervene more robustly in Syria and to launch yet another aggressive war, this time against Iran.
In effect, we, the peoples of the world, can take some slight comfort in the cautionary approach evident in the Obama tilt away from the hazards of ‘perpetual war,’ but until the more fundamental aspects of the American global role and ambitions, and its related militarism become the crux of debate, advocacy, and policy, we and others cannot rest easy!