To be honest, before President Obama delivered his speech today on the "war on terror," we weren't too optimistic about what new ground it might break. But it turned out to be quite significant—perhaps not completely revolutionary, but meaningful nonetheless. Even as he made a lengthy argument in defense of the use of drones, Obama acknowledged not only that we have killed American citizens in drone strikes, but that the strikes have also killed civilians. He made, as he hasn't in some time, a strong case to shut down the prison in Guantanamo, and also announced a lifting of the moratorium on sending prisoners who have been declared to not be a threat to the U.S. (because they weren't terrorists in the first place) back to Yemen. According to The New York Times, "Of the 86 detainees approved for transfer when 'security conditions' are met, 56 of them are from Yemen. In theory, this move could lead to a significant reduction in the prison population." Obama also called for repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed three days after September 11, which has been the legal underpinning for the deployment of deadly force anywhere in the world where somebody can be even remotely tied to al-Qaeda.
There was certainly a good deal of vagueness—Obama said he wanted to work with Congress to figure out what to do about the remaining Guantanamo prisoners (good luck with that). He promised that some kind of oversight procedure to determine whether each individual drone strike is appropriate would be devised as well. But the most important thing to emerge from the speech may be that Obama effectively declared an end to the war on terror (see "So They Say," below).
Back in 2004, John Kerry expressed his desire to see terrorism reduced "to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance. … It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life." Naturally, Republicans reacted with feigned outrage that he could even contemplate something short of glorious victory in the war on terror. Kerry was right, of course, but reaching that point requires a change in how we think about terrorism and the choices we make in combating it. It remains to be seen whether Obama's speech today will mark a meaningful turning point. But it looks like a start.
So They Say
“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”
Daily Meme: Only in America
- Anthony Weiner officially entered New York City's mayoral race yesterday—appropriating the colors of his fellow underdogs at Shea Stadium—and his campaign antics have souped up the election's already reality TV-esque charms considerably.
- He charmed locals on the trail today, trading jokes and stories in Harlem with a media swarm in hot pursuit. One woman advised him to stay off Facebook, "prompting him to smile and exclaim, 'We were doing so well there for a minute.'"
- Fellow politicians are not impressed. Governor Andrew Cuomo said "Shame on us" if the former representative wins, while Congressman Charlie Rangel says Weiner's candidacy is important "only to the extent that only in America can we do these types of things."
- Not many people are jumping to help his campaign, either. "He has virtually no campaign infrastructure, no labor unions leaping to his side, no army of on-the-ground foot soldiers eager to evangelize on his behalf," reports the Times.
- Which may be part of the reason his campaign website features the skyline of Pittsburgh instead of the city he hopes to woo.
- So how are the other candidates faring? Well, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is still in the lead, and still collecting major dough.
- City Controller John Liu received the election's smallest donation ... of a nickel.
- Bill De Blasio just got the support of the city's biggest union.
- Bill Thompson, the Democratic nominee last time against Mayor Bloomberg, is waiting in the shadows while the other Democrats bicker at each other.
- On the Republican side, former MTA chair Joe Lhota appears to be leading the fundraising pack, while billionaire John Catsimatidis leads in offering novel campaign promises, often involving animals.
What We're Writing
- Union-backed candidates won a veto-proof majority on the board of aldermen in New Haven in late 2011. Their early success with fighting joblessness, writes Harold Meyerson, may be a new model for organizers across the country.
- An IRS official pleading the Fifth, a tornado's destruction in a red state, the Associated Press spied on by the Department of Justice: The week's been full of bleak metaphors, writes Steve Erickson. Dismissing the cabinet member he's closest to, Eric Holder, might help the president to take control of them.
What We're Reading
- Chicago shootings cost the city $2.5 billion a year.
- A law professor has some questions about the legal framework for the White House's drone policy.
- Republicans could do worse than follow the lead of the revamping Democratic Party of the early '90s.
- Mississippi might be headed toward a future in which women can be jailed for having a miscarriage.
- Bloomberg Businessweek maps out the drone war.
- "For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama has succeeded in placing a judge on a key Washington appeals court." Welcome, Sri Srinivasan, to the D.C. Court of Appeals!
Poll of the Day
The majority of the public, 58 percent, supports a path to citizenship for the undocumented, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll. That provision is likely to be voted on this June as part of a larger immigration reform bill.