Should President Obama end the war on terror?

He came to talk about the future, but the past keeps pulling him back.

President Obama outlined his vision for a revised American counterterrorism policy during Thursday's speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., renewing his call to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and announcing new guidelines to govern the use of targeted drone strikes on foreign soil.

Animating many of the president's proposals was a stated desire to "discipline our thinking and our actions" and to move America away from a "perpetual wartime footing" that has held sway for nearly 12 years, since Congress passed an Authorization to Use Military Force [AUMF] in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

The president pledged to "work with Congress" to "refine and ultimately repeal" the AUMF, warning that a strategy of "perpetual war - through drones or special forces or troop deployments - will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways."

Simply put: While "our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue," the president said, "This war, like all wars, must end."

While Mr. Obama has spoken before about the need for a return to normalcy of sorts in how America views and responds to terrorist threats, rarely has he expressed that point so baldly and called for an outright "end" to the nearly-12-year old conflict.

But should the "war on terror," as we know it today, be drawn to a conclusion, given the continued threat posed by terrorists? And with the hypersensitivity attending public discussion on the issue, is it politically realistic to expect a declared end to the "war on terror" any time soon?

The "big question here is whether the president's words translate into real policy or operational practice," said CBS News senior national security analyst Juan Zarate. "Ultimately, the threats, as they continue to morph, will dictate how willing we are to constrain [counterterrorism] power."

And the "political realities" of zero tolerance for terrorist attacks on the homeland will jeopardize "any attempts to limit our [counterterrorism] actions," added Zarate, also a former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.

"The most important advance in the speech was the acknowledgement that the war will end at a foreseeable point in the future," former assistant secretary of state for public affairs P.J. Crowley told CBSNews.com. "This will require an unwinding of policies, authorities and tactics that have accumulated over the past dozen years."

But if the immediate reaction to Mr. Obama's speech is any indication, some in Congress are not so keen on abandoning America's post-9/11 counterterrorism policies, with several Republican senators blasting the president for what they fear is a premature pivot.

  • Jake Miller

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