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
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2200 GMT (0600 HKT)
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT