During his inauguration address, President Obama proclaimed: “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” While Obama’s choice of words may sound well in an inaugural address, they do not accurately recognize the real threats America faces in the world.
America has not been in a perpetual war, nor is perpetual war necessary. However, America is in a long war against international terrorism, and this war will not end simply because President Obama says it has ended in a speech. Wars end when the enemy quits because they are defeated or because they realize that they can no longer achieve their objectives through violence. With terrorism, it’s usually a combination of both. Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace has to be maintained and defended.
What the President fails to appreciate is that war is not just mobilizing divisions of armies, fleets of ships, and squadrons of planes onto a linear battlefield. War in the 21st century is often asymmetric, convoluted, and complex. Like it or not, America is in a long war that will last decades. Saying otherwise is misleading. Thinking otherwise is dangerous.
Although Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is very much alive and active—especially on the Arabian Peninsula and across northern Africa. This was vividly demonstrated recently on September 11, 2012, when the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other brave Americans were murdered in Benghazi by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and with the recent al-Qaeda-inspired hostage crisis in Algeria that saw three Americans killed.
Even before the horrific attacks of 9/11, America has been in a war against international terrorism. Sometimes this has meant U.S. boots on the ground. At other times this has meant more covert and asymmetrical intelligence and cyberspace activities. Because one cannot completely shoot dead an ideology, the war against international terrorism will be a long one.
What is required is perpetual readiness, vigilance, and, yes, sacrifice. So far, Obama has implemented a foreign policy of leading from behind in global affairs, presided over dangerous defense cuts that leave America weaker in a more dangerous world, and placed “hope” above reality when dealing with countries like Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea.
Now, heading into his second term, he is misleading the American people into thinking that the security challenges America faces is simply down to one of two choices: “perpetual war” or “lasting peace.” This is a false dichotomy. Unless we stay prepared for the former, we can never have the latter.