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Obama refocuses terror threat to pre-9/11 level

FILE  – In this May 23, 2013, file photo President Barack Obama is seen at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington during a speech in which he sought to refine and recalibrate his counterterrorism strategy, and asserted that al-Qaida is "on the path to defeat."  Some call it wishful thinking, but Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terror. He is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners, but he is steering the country away from what he calls an equally frightening threat: a country in a state of perpetual war. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

FILE – In this May 23, 2013, file photo President Barack Obama is seen at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington during a speech in which he sought to refine and recalibrate his counterterrorism strategy, and asserted that al-Qaida is "on the path to defeat." Some call it wishful thinking, but Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terror. He is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners, but he is steering the country away from what he calls an equally frightening threat: a country in a state of perpetual war. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Some call it wishful thinking, but President Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terrorism.

Obama is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners. Instead, he is refocusing the long struggle against terrorism that lies ahead, steering the United States away from what he calls an equally frightening threat – a country in a state of perpetual war. In doing so,
Obama recasts the image of the terrorists themselves, from enemy warriors to cowardly thugs and resets the relationship between the U.S. and Islam.

His speech Thursday was designed to move America’s mindset away from a war footing and refine and recalibrate his own counterterrorism strategy. Obama asserted that al-Qaida is “on the path to defeat,” reducing the scale of terrorism to pre-Sept. 11 levels. That means that with the Afghanistan war winding down, Obama is unlikely to commit troops in large numbers to any conflict – in Syria or other countries struggling with instability in the uncertain aftermath of the Arab Spring – unless, as his critics fear, he tragically has underestimated al-Qaida’s staying power.

“Wishing the defeat of terrorists does not make it so,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

In Thornberry’s view, Obama is pushing the idea that “we can simply declare al-Qaida beaten and go back to the pre-9/11 era.”

From the beginning of his presidency, Obama’s centerpiece of his national security strategy has been a desire to move beyond the wars he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the shadowy spaces occupied by al-Qaida and its offshoots now creeping up in North Africa and elsewhere.

Those endeavors consumed enormous amounts of his administration’s time and attention during his first term, not to mention the incalculable costs paid by military members and their families.

“This war, like all wars, must end,” he said. “That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

As Obama edges toward a new approach to national security, his political opponents are quick to raise doubts.

“Too often, this president has sought to end combat operations through rhetoric rather than reality,” GOP Rep. Buck McKeon of California, chairman of the House
Armed Services Committee, said Friday.

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