Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Republic of War


Republicans are upset about President Obama’s May 23 foreign-policy address, yet politics aside, it’s hard to say why. “We show this lack of resolve, talking about the war being over,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Fox News Sunday.

But four days later in his Memorial Day remarks, Obama said, “Our nation is still at war.”

Why did the earlier speech set off Republicans? He acknowledged that terrorism can never be completely eliminated and that a risk-free society is impossible. He conceded that U.S. military action breeds enemies. He admitted that not every foreign violent organization is a threat to Americans. He even quoted James Madison: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Indeed, Obama said some things that need saying, but will he do what needs doing? More precisely, will he stop doing what shouldn’t be done?

The speech provides no reason for optimism. For one thing, his premise is wrong: The U.S. government was on a perpetual war footing before the attacks of 9/11, intervening one way or another in many places. The “war on terror” has just been more visible.

Obama says he wants to understand the roots of terrorism, but he just repeats bromides.  “These threats don’t arise in a vacuum,” he said. “Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology — a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West.”

But this implies the “extremist ideology” arose in a vacuum. Obama shows no understanding that Muslim violence has been a response to generations of Western and most recently American efforts to maintain hegemony in the Muslim world.  These efforts have consisted in direct overt and covert intervention, backing for brutal and corrupt dictators and monarchs, and enabling of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians. From Osama bin Laden on down, the perpetrators of anti-American violence have consistently said so.

Despite Obama’s acknowledgement of the dangers, to Americans and others, of perpetual U.S. warfare, one strains to find signs of change in the speech. He says “our response to terrorism can’t depend on military or law enforcement alone,” but he still envisions a large role for the military: He says the first order of business is to finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces.” And, “Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces.” But “its associated forces” is a conveniently vague justification for continued U.S. militarism. It goes beyond Congress’s 2001 authorization for military force.

While Obama promises only to narrow the use of drones and shift responsibility from the CIA to the Pentagon, we can’t be sure even this will happen – or matter. His “presidential policy guidance” is classified, and he reserves the authority to target alleged militants who pose a “continuing and imminent threat” when he decides that other alternatives are unavailable or are too risky. Yet his administration has drained the word “imminent” of meaning

“Before any strike is taken,” he added, “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.” But he conceded that his administration has killed an undisclosed number of noncombatants. Independent sources say several hundredhave been killed — while entire villages live in terror of the next strike. This will not change.

Remember that administration targets are only accused of planning attacks. There is no due process, and an oversight board would not change that.

Obama defended his killing of American Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen on the grounds that al-Awlaki had helped plan attacks, but Obama offered no proof, and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill says the first efforts to kill Awlaki preceded the terrorist plots he is allegedly linked to. And what about the separate drone killings of al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son and other Americans?

Obama also renewed his long-dormant call for closing Guantanamo — but not before the mass hunger strike and force-feedings that the whole world is watching.

This all looks more like legacy preparation than real change in policy. Witness Syria and Iran.

So why are Republicans fussing? Obama said, “We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root.”

For Republicans, that’s un-American.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation ( in Fairfax, Va. He can be reached through his blog, Free Association.

Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”