Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bush's war on terror is over

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
May 26, 2013 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Terrorism has been in the news with Boston bombing and killing of UK soldier in the street
  • Peter Bergen says despite recent acts, the enemy behind 9/11 has been defeated
  • He says President Obama signaled he wants Bush's endless war on terror to end
  • Bergen: Key part of Obama speech was idea that America's perpetual war footing should end

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad," the basis for the HBO documentary "Manhunt" that will be shown on CNN at 9 p.m. ET Monday.

Washington (CNN) -- In the past few weeks, we've seen a British soldier hacked to death with a meat cleaver on the streets of London and bombers blowing up spectators at the Boston Marathon.

On the surface, terrorism is alive and well.

So how should the United States react to these continuing threats?

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen

For the first time on Thursday, President Obama laid out the full scope of his proposed counterterrorism strategy, and it boiled down to this: George W. Bush's endless war on terror is over.

And that's appropriate, since the enemy Bush went to war with after September 11 has largely been defeated.

Obama's speech at the National Defense University in Washington was designed to lay the political groundwork to wind down America's longest war, the war that began when al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon 12 years ago.

Thursday's speech was the first time Obama had delivered an overarching framework for how to conceptualize the conflict that has defined U.S. national security policy since 9/11.

Obama defends secret drone program
King: Obama's tone was wrong
President Obama interrupted by heckler
CNN Explains: Drones

Other speeches by Obama have focused on aspects of that conflict, such as Guantanamo and the Afghan war. But no speech has made such an expansive examination of the war against al Qaeda and its allies in all its manifestations, from drone strikes to detention policies to a clear-eyed assessment of the scope of the threats posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as by those "homegrown" extremists who attacked the Boston Marathon in April.

Much of the coverage of the speech has centered on the measures the president outlined to impose greater constraints on CIA drone strikes and to try to hasten the eventual closing of Guantanamo.

But the most significant aspect of the speech was the president's case that the "perpetual wartime footing" and "boundless war on terror" that has permeated so much of American life since 9/11 should come to an end.

Obama argued that the time has come to redefine the kind of conflict that the United States is engaged in: "We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us."

This is why the president focused part of his speech on a discussion of the seemingly arcane Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress passed days after 9/11 and that gave Bush the authority to go to war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and its Taliban allies.

Few, if any, in Congress who voted for the authorization understood at the time that they were voting for a virtual blank check that has provided the legal basis for more than a decade of war. It is a war that has expanded in recent years to other countries in the Middle East and Africa, such as Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has engaged in covert military operations against al Qaeda-affiliated groups.

Theoretically, when U.S. combat troops finally withdraw from Afghanistan in December 2014, the authorization should simply expire, and the nation will no longer be at war. After all, once combat operations are over in Afghanistan, why would you want to keep in place an authorization for a permanent war?

However, there are now some in Congress who would like to expand the scope of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force beyond its present parameters to include military operations against terrorist groups that were not involved in the 9/11 attacks, which could prolong America's wars indefinitely and add additional terrorist groups to the United States' list of enemies it is at war with.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, ranking member of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for instance, last month called for an expansion of the scope of the authorization.

Obama made it quite clear in his Thursday speech that he would oppose such an expansion, saying he hopes instead to "ultimately repeal the AUMF's mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further."

In short, Obama intends to end a seemingly endless war.

That's because, according to Obama, "the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us."

On Thursday, Obama asserted (in my view, correctly) that what remains of the terrorist threat, while significant and persistent, is nothing on the scale of the al Qaeda organization that launched the 9/11 operation and instead consists of "less capable al Qaeda affiliates, threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad, homegrown extremists."

These threats, the president further asserted, can be managed by carefully targeted drone strikes overseas and efforts to counter extremist ideology at home and do not require some kind of broader war.

Obama is also looking to his legacy and the presidents who will follow him and is trying to begin to create the public consensus and legal framework that will help to ensure that the United States isn't "drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states."

Obama clearly hopes to leave office in 2016 as the commander in chief who finally ended America's longest war.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT