President Barack Obama defends his use of drones. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)Saying it's time "to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing," President Barack Obama invited Congress in a speech on Thursday to help him scale back the country's 12-year conflict against al-Qaida and its affiliates.
"America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us," he warned in remarks at National Defense University.
Obama defiantly defended his use of drones to assassinate suspected extremists overseas, including Americans, but he asked lawmakers to join him in setting modest new safeguards. He renewed his call for shuttering the Guantanamo Bay prison for alleged terrorists. And he announced efforts to find a better balance between investigations of national security leaks and the freedom of the press.
"Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end," Obama said in a speech plainly shaped by his awareness of the place drones and Guantanamo Bay could occupy in his legacy.
"Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation-states," he warned.
Obama was heckled at length by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink and a leading (and highly recognizable) critic of the so-called war on terrorism.
"Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives?" she shouted as she was finally ushered from the hall. "Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the innocent family victims? That will make us safer!"
After trying and failing several times to get her to sit quietly, Obama went off script and enlisted her protest to reinforce his message about the need to close the Guantanamo facility.Read More »from Amid heckling, Obama defends drone strikes, vows to close Guantanamo