Obama Faces Bush's Reflection

Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush not only his post, but also a country and a world constructed in accordance with his vision. In the four years and four months that have passed since the transfer of power, some of the most offensive expressions of that vision, such as the use of torture, secret prisons and illegal detainment, have been eliminated. But the United States presidency has essentially operated within the parameters designed by the previous administration, defined by the general and vague concept of a global, or world, war on terror. In his speech on Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington, Obama took the first serious step towards putting an end to that era. “This war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands,” said the president, in the most significant and emphatic sentence of the speech.

The war in question is enshrined in the law “Authorization for Use of Military Force” that was passed immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in 2001 and which gives the president practically unlimited powers to act against any threat to the security of the United States, anywhere in the world. “I want to involve Congress and the North American people in the redefinition of the law and, ultimately, in its revocation,” declared Obama.

This is the law that permitted the creation of Guantanamo Prison and that, up to the present day, provides legal cover for the indiscriminate use of drones, the two most conspicuous legacies of the global war on terror, from the world or Bush. One of them, Guantanamo, is inherited; the other, the use of drones, is Obama’s contribution. Now, in order to define his new strategy of a post-Bush world which he hopes will be his legacy, he must get rid of both of these.

This is no easy task. The war on terror created a military structure and set of defense priorities which are not easy to change overnight. The U.S. has determinedly maintained its current stance for too long to suddenly simply change it. There now exists a generation of Americans that has grown up in a world designed by Bush. The great military machine which for more than a decade fought two large-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and incessantly carried out attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, cannot suddenly become a champion of peace.

It can, however, change course. “So America is at a crossroads,” said Obama. “”We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.” To put it bluntly, the U.S. must end the war on terror or that war will end up destroying the country’s democratic system. The case of Guantanamo is clearer. As the president reminded us, it is horrific to think that the nation which claims to be the guardian of human rights has detained for 10 or even 20 years a handful of individuals who have not even been accused of a crime.

To correct its course it is right, therefore, to close Guantanamo, limit the use of drones to the truly justifiable minimum and restore the system of assurances and controls which were completely undermined by the aforementioned law of authorization.

There are no arguments that justify prolonging the Bush doctrine. The U.S. suffers, and no doubt will continue to suffer, from the effects of terrorism, like so many other countries. But there is no reason why such terrorism should not be treated with regular instruments of the law; indeed, it should be confronted by what someday will be known, one hopes, as Obama’s doctrine.

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