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Security Address on Counter-Terrorism by The Honorable Barack Obama, United States Senator from Illinois

On Wednesday, August 1, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a Director's Forum with U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, during which he unveiled his comprehensive strategy for confronting terrorism worldwide.

Date & Time

Wednesday
Aug. 1, 2007
11:00am – 12:00pm ET

Overview

After the devastating attacks of 9/11, "our calling was to write a new chapter in the American story," declared Senator Barack Obama at an August 1st Director's Forum. Our main objectives, he said, were "to devise new strategies and build new alliances, to secure our homeland and safeguard our values, and to serve a just cause abroad." In the Senator's view, however, both the war in Iraq and failed leadership in Washington have made America less safe than ever before.

Immediately following the attacks, "we were ready," said Obama. "Americans were united. Friends around the world stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We had the might and moral-suasion that was the legacy of generations of Americans. But then everything changed." According to the Senator, we did not follow through with our obligation to track down those responsible for the World Trade Center atrocities, nor did we develop a proper strategy for confronting global terrorism at its roots. "Instead, we got a color-coded politics of fear," he explained, an approach which not only sidelined diplomacy but manipulated the American public, by disingenuously devising the invasion of a state that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Obama went on to delineate how the occupation of Iraq has served to undermine, rather than bolster, American security. He cited the National Intelligence Estimate, for example, which defines the current threat to our homeland from al Qaeda as "persistent and evolving." The Senator also referred to Afghanistan, which has seen an escalation in violence since 2001, and to the fact that al Qaeda has managed to carve out a sanctuary of impunity in the border regions of Pakistan.

"What's more," Obama continued, "in the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantanamo, we have compromised our most precious values," an uncomfortable truth, he said, which has had a profound effect on our international standing and reputation. "It is time to turn the page," proclaimed the Senator. "It is time to write a new chapter in our response to 9/11." Imperative to this venture, he explained, will be a serious re-evaluation and clarification of our goals.

Obama spent the remainder of his speech outlining a comprehensive, five-point strategy for winning the fight against global terrorism. First, he said we need to extricate ourselves from the ill-conceived occupation of Iraq and re-focus our attention on the ‘real' battlefields of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Second, we must rekindle and/or develop the kind of partnerships necessary for confronting this global threat. Third, we must acknowledge and seek to alleviate the root causes of terrorism: poverty; the lack of education; conflict, anarchy, and collapsed or collapsing states. Fourth, we need to restore our most fundamental values and regain our moral leadership by rejecting torture without exception. Finally, we must secure a more resilient homeland, but without compromising our cherished civil liberties.

"We are in the early stages of a long struggle," Obama admitted, as he began to wrap up his remarks. "But the America I know… [is] the country that put a man on the moon; that defeated fascism and helped rebuild Europe. It's a country whose strength abroad is measured not just by armies, but rather by the power of our ideals, and by our purpose to forge an ever more perfect union at home."

In order to eradicate the threat of global terrorism, he concluded, "it's going to take Americans coming together and changing the fundamental direction of this country. It's going to take the service of a new generation of young people. It's going to take facing tragedy head-on and turning it into the next generation's triumph. That is a challenge that I welcome. Because when we do make that change, we'll do more than win a war – we'll live up to that calling to make America, and the world, safer, freer, and more hopeful than we found it."

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