Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bush's war on terror is over

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Sun May 26, 2013
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
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT