From The Grio — The constitutional lawyer-turned-president must be tired of being cast by critics as acting outside the bounds of the Constitution.
President Barack Obama’s nearly hour-long speech on national security Thursday included only a few new policies and did not reverse many of his more controversial national security stances.
The Obama administration will still use drones to kill suspected terrorists, even American citizens in some cases, although their use will be limited to those who “pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” and strikes in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are likely to be reduced in the future.
The administration will still prosecute people who leak national security information to journalists and hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, unless Congress explicitly allows the closure of that facility. Obama is not doing everything he can to reassure civil liberties advocates or those who worry about an overly-powerful executive branch.
Obama doctrine is reinforced
Instead of dramatically shifting policy, the speech, as Obama and his team intended, formalized the president’s general doctrine on national security and announced a clearly-defined set of goals and strategies which will give the public a clearer way to evaluate Obama’s policies and their impact.
And it was a detailed rebuttal to critics, particularly those in Congress, who have argued the administration has redefined American national security policy with little input from the public or lawmakers and too quickly resorted to controversial policies, such as seizing the phone records of a number of Associated Press reporters to investigate an alleged leak and killing hundreds in drone strikes over the last five years.
In particular, the president strongly and repeatedly defended his use of drones, arguing they were vastly preferable to the use of American troops on the ground to capture suspected terrorists and that the number of civilians killed in the strikes has been overstated.
Drones used as a last resort
“America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces,” the president said. “We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.”
Rejecting the notion his administration favors killing terrorists over capturing them, Obama emphasized he used drones only as a last resort and through a process with strong oversight.
“The use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them,” Obama said.
At the same time, Obama announced a series of actions that will directly address his critics, even if they don’t change the underlying policies. The administration, as the president announced today, will hold classified briefings with Congress to explain its exact criteria for targeted killings of suspected terrorists abroad, giving lawmakers a stronger role in the process.
The Department of Defense, instead of the CIA, will have a greater role in the strikes, shifting to a department that is required to detail more of its actions to lawmakers. Obama’s emphasis in his speech on balancing prosecution of leaks with allowing journalists to investigate the government is likely to reassure the press, which has sharply attacked his administration since the disclosure of Department of Justice investigations into the phone records of journalists at Fox News and the Associated Press. The president said DOJ officials would meet with editors at key publications and discuss how leaks investigations would be conducted in the future.