Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

US Notebook: Barack Obama is facing a fight to take US off a war footing

Warning: US President Barack Obama
Warning: US President Barack Obama

In a May 23 speech regarding America's 'War on Terror', Barack Obama insisted that, while the post-9/11 campaigns must eventually end, its multi-pronged efforts to battle its terrorist foes is far from over.

"We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us," Obama told an audience at the National Defense University at Fort McNair.

"And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom. That begins with understanding the current threat that we face."

A week after Obama's speech, the US State Department weighed in with its take on the threats America faces, by issuing its Country Reports on Terrorism 2012.

The report gave the State Department's annual region-by-region analysis of all terrorist groups in specific countries, the attacks they mounted, the counter-terrorism measures used against them and the economic and political measures deployed to buttress counter-terrorism tactics.

This year, for the first time, a nine-page statistical annex was compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (Start), based at the University of Maryland.

The Start annex is a fountain of terrorism statistics. There are lists and charts of all worldwide attacks.

Cynics could be forgiven for seeing parallels between the Start annex and those obsessed with the minutia of sporting statistics.

But there are also practical benefits – for American businesses and the US diplomats seeking to facilitate their operations abroad – to having such detailed data.

Start is but one of 12 'centres of excellence' that, according to the Department of Homeland Security's science and technology directorate, are comprised of "hundreds of universities generating groundbreaking ideas for new technologies and critical knowledge" that can be used to combat terrorism.

Given the realities underscored by the recent Boston marathon bombing and the gruesome murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in London, defenders of the centres of excellence see such intelligence-gathering and data analysis as common sense. Detractors worry that the Big Brother state has moved another step closer.

In his recent speech, Obama said that Americans must remember the cautionary words of one of the country's founding fathers, James Madison, who'd warned that, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

In 1961, President Dwight D Eisenhower used his farewell address to famously urge Americans to "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex".

Like Eisenhower before him, Obama has flagged up the dangers – albeit in a new, high-tech guise – of a burgeoning military-industrial apparatus.

The question is, like Eisenhower's before him, will Obama's warnings fall on deaf ears?

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