The events of September 11, 2001 forever changed the game. It brought the turmoil overseas right to the doorstep of America. Up to that point, such tragedies seemed to occur in unstable nations thousands of miles away. The American people never expected to be subjected to such atrocities or targeted as combatants in an armed conflict. It was also a wake-up call for members of the government and Intelligence Community (IC) who missed key steps in thwarting the attacks. Finally, it demonstrated to American lawmakers that the globe is a battlefield and anyone is fair game.
Michael Hirsh and James Oliphant wrote in National Journal Magazine that despite foreign wars concluding and the president pledging to get the United States off of a “perpetual wartime footing”, drone strikes and special operations have increased. Even though the US will be withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, President Obama wants to keep a residual force to continue to train Afghan forces in the hopes they will be able to combat terrorism on their own.
Many have been skeptical of the president’s policies regarding the use of force against terrorists. First, there is the Authorization to Use Military Force, issued days after the events of September 11, 2001and expanded by the Obama administration. This administration has used drones to carry out attacks at a rate significantly higher than those of the previous administration. This has many human rights organizations weighing in on the strikes and questioning the legality of strikes against American citizens who have taken up arms against the United States, which effectively denies these citizens their Constitutional right to due process.
Second, and much more controversial, is the National Security Agency’s (NSA) practices of collecting metadata of the phone calls of American citizens without search warrants, and spying on foreigners and foreign governments. The US government contends these practices allow them to paint a clearer picture of how terrorists operate and what their potential next move is. Many believe it violates the Constitution’s protection from unwarranted searches and seizures.
Unfortunately, extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. However, there are legal frameworks governments must abide by to protect their citizens and no one is above the law. Pending legal challenges aside, the president has a great responsibility to defend the American people. While many Americans value their privacy and typically choose liberty over security, terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda have demonstrated their willingness to take unconventional measures in order to inflict the heaviest possible damage on their enemies.
Despite President Obama’s push back of core al-Qaeda, he has received harsh criticism for incidents such as the attack at the Special Mission in Benghazi. Furthermore, the attacks last year at the Boston Marathon by two self-radicalized lone wolves raised concerns about potential future attacks on the homeland. Despite this attack being the first success on the homeland since 9/11, it nonetheless has scared IC officials and the administration. Just this week, news broke of an American attempting to move to Syria to join forces with al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). ISIS is arguably the most radical terrorist group and as such, they have been excommunicated by core al-Qaeda. The suspect also had plans to attack the Los Angeles subway system.
President Obama continues to receive pressure to protect the lives of Americans. Last year in a speech on the floor of the House, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) accused the president of allowing five terrorists to reach their targets here in the United States while in the seven years after 9/11, President Bush allowed zero. While PolitiFact rated Cotton’s claim mostly false, it demonstrates the continued pressure President Obama is under. The reason the president has taken such extreme measures, counter to previous campaign promises, is because he cannot be responsible for the deaths of Americans at the hands of terrorists. It is imperative to take a zero tolerance stance against such action to prevent future tragedies.
The same goes for any future president. Unfortunately, President Bush will always be remembered as the president who allowed the greatest terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Future presidents will not want to have similar catastrophes as part of their legacies. With radical terrorist cells continuing to flex their muscles overseas, many experts in the field believe that future attacks are being planned against America once more. Vigilance is imperative. Campaign promises of liberty and transparency to appease voters is one thing, but when finally in office and faced with the daunting responsibility of keeping over 300 million people safe, extreme measures will be taken. As long as terrorist groups continue to use unconventional methods of warfare and use the globe as their battlefield, the United States will never get off a “perpetual wartime footing.”