- - Thursday, May 23, 2013

President Obama had said that al Qaeda is nearly defeated and the war on terrorism has changed since he took office, and that demands a broad rethink that includes scaling down drone attacks, transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay and revisiting the 2001 congressional resolution that set the country on perpetual war footing.

After the death of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, al Qaeda has been decimated, scattered across the North Africa and the Middle East and able to launch only small-scale attacks, Mr. Obama told an audience gathered at the National Defense University in Washington.

“America is at a crossroads,” he said. “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that ‘no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’”

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Senior administration officials went further by telling reporters that Mr. Obama wants to jettison the whole mindset that the U.S. is still engaged in a war on terrorism.

“The president has indicated and will indicate again that he rejects the notion of global war on terrorism, which is an amorphous definition that applies to a tactic,” one official said.

Republicans said the war on terrorism looks different from what it did in 2001 but it’s premature to declare victory.

“The justification for closing Gitmo is that we’ve destroyed the al Qaeda leadership and we’re relentless in our pursuit of terrorists. That is not a good justification, because that is not true,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “The enemy is morphing. It is spreading. There are more theaters of conflict today than there have been in several years.”

In making his case, the president gave a new description for the state of al Qaeda. He said the “core of al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan is on a path to defeat.”

On the campaign trail last year, he repeatedly boasted that all of “al Qaeda was on the run” and during a fundraiser after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, declared that “al Qaeda is on its heels.”

Mr. Obama also broadly ruled out the possibility of al Qaeda having a direct role in the Benghazi terrorist attack as well as the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260 others.

He said al Qaeda’s “remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.”

The president shifted the conversation back to foreign policy as he faces burgeoning scandals at home over IRS scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, and over his Justice Department’s decision to subpoena phone records from journalists at The Associated Press.

Mr. Obama said he has ordered Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to review the policy and convene a meeting with media representatives, with the goal of making sure reporters don’t face legal troubles for doing their jobs.

He also called for the country to revisit the congressional resolution authorizing military force to go after terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

The president said he would like to “ultimately repeal” that resolution but didn’t say when.

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