"This war, like all wars, must end."
President Obama stirred up wrath from the right when he said this on May 27: "Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end." But does Obama's statement show a dangerously naïve attitude toward terrorism, or a realistic view of how we are to move forward?
It is true that we have enemies who want to do us harms and we will have enemies well into the future. This is and will be the case regardless of the reason why, and we need to be vigilant against these threats to our national security and the lives of our citizens. Furthermore, given Obama's record on dealing with Muslim terrorists, it is wise to be skeptical of his policies and his arguments.
But there is significant danger in being on a constant war footing - something conservatives who are generally skeptical of big government should be (but often are not) the first ones to recognize. A continuous war footing gives government a convenient excuse to restrict or trample civil liberties, which too many simply go along with because of a desire to be "safe." The question we need to ask ourselves is whether Muslim terrorists or our own government has the greater potential to do us harm and take away our freedom.
There is a good reason that the framers gave Congress the power to declare war, instead of the president. There is and has always been tension between the authority of the President and the authority of Congress regarding the use of military force, but there is no question that the President can use military force in the event of imminent military threat. Even Obama has recognized the need for continued use of force to dismantle terrorist organizations.
That said, the framers clearly intended to give Congress authority in declaring war, and simply allowing a nebulous authorization to use force to continue indefinitely has an enormous potential for abuse.
Krauthammer is correct that we live in a very violent world, where many wars are being fought at any given moment. But the vast majority of these wars are not our wars, even if we do have one side we prefer to another. We also need to be very careful in picking those sides, especially given the affiliation of some rebel factions in Syria with al-Qaeda. But he errs in equating the War on Terror with the Cold War, which were very different conflicts with very different enemies.
I am no supporter of Obama. He is one of the worst Presidents we have ever had, and we would have been much better off had he been removed from office last year. But he is correct that we should not be on an endless war footing with a very amorphous enemy. Clearly we need to have security measures in place to guard against terrorist attacks, and we need to respond with force when we are attacked. But a permanent state of war is a terrible idea fraught with danger, and Obama is correct to reject it.