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Barack Obama Should Call for End of All War, Not Just War on Terror

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Since Barack Obama became President, I’ve beaten up on him for being so hawkish, for perpetuating U.S. militarism–and hence militarism in general—as a way to solve conflicts. In a major speech yesterday at the National Defense University in McNair, Virginia, Obama took a few tiny steps toward becoming the Peace President many voters hoped he would be. But he needs to go much, much further.

Obama taking stage at National Defense University

Here are some points that Obama made yesterday: First, he acknowledged the enormous costs of the post-9/11 U.S. wars both to Americans and others, including thousands of civilians killed by U.S. military operations overseas. Quoting James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” Obama asserted that the U.S. war against terrorism cannot be open-ended. “This war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

Obama called for the repeal of the post-9/11 “Authorization to Use Military Force,” whereby Congress granted the President enormous power to combat terrorism. “Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions,” he explained, “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.”

While defending the use of drone strikes, Obama said that the U.S. should try harder to bring terrorism suspects to justice rather than simply killing them, and to minimize civilian casualties caused by U.S. attacks. He recognized that U.S. attacks can enflame opposition to the U.S., and that ultimately foreign aid and other carrots are cheaper and more effective at reducing hostility to the U.S.

Obama, whose administration has been criticized recently for spying on reporters, recognized the vital importance of a strong, free media. Saying he is “troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable,” he called on Congress “to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach.”

Obama called once again for the closing of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, where suspected enemies of the U.S. have been held without trial indefinitely and illegally. Guantanamo “has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” Obama said.

A high point of Obama’s speech was his off-the-cuff response to shouted objections of an antiwar activist to drone strikes that target unidentified males merely for suspicious activities, such as meeting in war zones. After the woman, Medea Benjamin, was escorted from the room, Obama said: “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.” Yeah, words are cheap, but I like these words. The man actually listens to his critics.

Needless to say, I want Obama to take much more dramatic steps away from our current militarism. I’ve floated a few ideas on this blog: Slash the U.S. military budget, start closing U.S. bases overseas. Impose a moratorium on U.S. research and development of weapons and cut back on global arms sales. Renounce pre-emptive strikes, especially those that that will probably kill civilians. Promote nonviolent activism in regions of the world with social unrest.When contemplating armed intervention in, say, Syria, impose the end-of-war rule, which decrees that lethal force should only be employed in a way that is consistent with the ultimate goal of ending war and militarism.

There are so many things that a smart, courageous, imaginative leader can do to help move humanity toward a world without war! Call me a fool, but I still have hope that Barack Obama can become that leader.

Photo by White House photographer Pete Souza.

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. danarel 8:10 pm 05/24/2013

    before all the comments come in and complain this is not science enough for them. I want to say thank you for writing this!

    Link to this
  2. 2. rkipling 9:40 pm 05/24/2013

    My expectation is that history will record our current Bystander-in-Chief to be one of the least effective to hold that office. His only information comes from news reports. His staff tells him nothing (or so we are lead to believe.) So, who exactly is in charge?

    This post ties in with the recent blog post on IQ. Results of the November presidential election indicate 51.1% of voters fall on the left side of the bell curve.

    Link to this
  3. 3. grandpa98 3:09 am 05/25/2013

    OK, I’ll do it. You’re a fool. You’re last two blogs prove it.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Shecky R. 7:48 am 05/25/2013

    Arthur Koestler argued over a half-century ago that the only foreseeable way to counter Mankind’s penchant for self-destructive violence/war would be for governments to add pacifying pharmaceutical agents to the water supply. I don’t think anyone’s had a more practical, realistic (or fascistic) idea since then…unfortunately.

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  5. 5. Chryses 8:29 am 05/25/2013

    “Yeah, words are cheap, but I like these words.”

    LOL! How true! How very true!

    Link to this
  6. 6. centromere 8:40 am 05/25/2013

    @Horgan

    “I want Obama to take much more dramatic steps away from our current militarism.”

    Wish in one hand, …

    Link to this
  7. 7. FractalNumber 9:07 am 05/25/2013

    John,

    I’ve read your article above, and you close it with, “There are so many things that a smart, courageous, imaginative leader can do to help move humanity toward a world without war! Call me a fool, but I still have hope that Barack Obama can become that leader.”

    Are you referring to the man who has directed the U.S. military to kill United States citizens without the due process guaranteed by the Constitution (Fifth Amendment, “… ,nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; …”)?

    Are you aware he took an oath twice to uphold the U.S. Constitution per Article Two, Section One, Clause Eight: “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:— “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” ”?

    Are you referring to THAT Barack Obama?

    Link to this
  8. 8. abolitionist 9:50 am 05/25/2013

    Yep! Barack’s the one! http://tinyurl.com/pnphbtu

    Link to this
  9. 9. BookSpine 10:12 am 05/25/2013

    @1 danarel (8:10 pm 05/24/2013)

    “before all the comments come in and complain this is not science enough for them. I want to say thank you for writing this!”

    If you examine the data, you’ll notice that John’s focus is not on Science, it is on Politics.

    To get a data sample, click the “Cross Check” heading to the right of John’s picture. The titles of his latest 10 posts are:
    1. Barack Obama Should Call for End of All War, Not Just War on Terror
    2. Why You Should Care about Pentagon Funding of Obama’s BRAIN Initiative
    3. Should Research on Race and IQ Be Banned?**
    4. Why Buddha Isn’t Dead–and Psychology Still Isn’t Really a Science
    5. Bipolar Writer Comments on Debate Over “Crisis in Psychiatry”
    6. Psychiatry in Crisis! Mental Health Director Rejects Psychiatric “Bible” and Replaces with… Nothing
    7. Author of The Physics of Wall Street Ponders Strings, Black Swans and a Final Theory of Finance
    8. We Need a New Just-War Theory, Which Aims to End War Forever
    9. How Can We Condemn Boston Murders but Excuse U.S. Bombing of Civilians?
    10. Cantankerous Historian of Science Questions Whether Science Can Achieve “Truth”

    It is unreasonable to expect much Science from someone who wrote those polemics.

    Link to this
  10. 10. SilverTusk 10:58 am 05/25/2013

    “Yeah, words are cheap, but I like these words.”

    So, it would seem, did those who re-elected President Obama in November. I trust they and you are satisfied with the results.

    Just beware of the drones, as he seems to like using them, even when doing so unconstitutionally. I suppose it is OK for the President to have Americans killed without due process when they live in one of “those” countries.

    Link to this
  11. 11. CarefulReview 11:39 am 05/25/2013

    @9. BookSpine,

    Not all of the “Scientific American” blogs are political. The Curious Wavefunction commonly focuses on Science topics. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/

    While hard to find, Science can still be found here.

    Link to this
  12. 12. rkipling 1:04 pm 05/25/2013

    The only redeeming value to this blog post is that it provides an opportunity to comment about Horgan’s messiah. War can be ended only by victory or surrender. Obama’s choice is surrender. He doesn’t speak for all of us. Discussion of ending all war is sufficiently foolish to deserve no more comment.

    I detect no moral center to our current president. His lack of response to the Benghazi attack and murders is a good example. When bin Laden was killed, we were given a minute by minute account, with Situation Room pictures, of how Obama personally directed the operation. Ask where the President was and what his involvement was during the Benghazi attack? All you get is crickets chirping. If we ever find out what really happened my expectation is that it will be shown that he didn’t care and couldn’t be bothered to do his job as Commander-in-Chief.

    His supporters will say nothing could have been done in time. But no one knew how long the attack would last. No attempt was even started. Only the President could have ordered a cross-border response. Not only was no rescue ordered, Special Forces from Tripoli were ordered to stand down. My guess is that lives were sacrificed to reduce the potential larger political problem to the President had it turned into a Jimmy Carter type rescue. So Americans on the ground in Libya were left on their own for the President’s political benefit.

    After the attack, he and his people knowingly lied to the public about the nature of the attack and their responsibility for denying security the ambassador begged for. With this president, it’s all about his personal power and agenda. He looked at the deaths of those four people as a nuisance.

    This president’s only competence is political campaigning. It’s really all he has done his entire life.

    (For any that may wish to attribute my opinion to the President’s skin color, I wanted Condalisa Rice for our next president; not because she is black, because she is more competent than all who sought the office.)

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  13. 13. BookSpine 1:38 pm 05/25/2013

    @12. rkipling (1:04 pm 05/25/2013)

    “This president’s only competence is political campaigning. It’s really all he has done his entire life.”

    But he’s really good at political campaigning.

    Link to this
  14. 14. bitrat 2:03 pm 05/25/2013

    Yes, yes and yes again….however impractical pacifism seems, in the future it’s the only way….when there’s 10 billion people on the planet and any one of them can walk in a gas station, buy 5 gallons of gas and create mayhem, we’ll have to find a way to inculcate respect for each others’ cultures, religions, races, etc etc.
    Does anyone believe killing in the name of God or Goddess is moral? Is using drones to murder without judicial review (and I mean in a COURT ROOM, not some secret office somewhere) justifiable anywhere, any time?
    Come on, war on terror? It’s just a little further to justify police shooting people in the streets saying, “well, he visited a lot of questionable web sites, so we shot her/him because he might have killed someone later”. Hey, that guy with the tatoos in the bank? Take him out, he was probably thinking about robbing it – after all, his emails and Facebook chats talked about being broke and feeling desperate…..
    And in this year Of Our Lord 2013, no one, and I mean NO ONE should have nuclear weapons or (for goddesses sake!) stockpiles of chemical weapons. Take ‘em all out, I say – forget “national sovereignty”- the era of the nation-state is over…..who runs the world? The multinational corporations…..
    As I’ve said before, if it takes the black helicopters*, I say bring ‘em on – it’s time to take away the land mines and cheap guns for sale to every rag-tag army the world over (who are the biggest arms manufacturers, BTW?), and to put all the H-bombs and nerve gas to bed, IMNSHO (in my not-so-humble opinion ;^p) Cheers.
    *For those not familiar with the term, there’s a popular conspiracy theory about the UN or FEMA or the “Illuminati” or whoever plotting to instantiate a world government by force, fill up the secret gulags and concentration camps, kill off half the population, etc etc. One of the signs is supposed to be unmarked black helicopters landing in Washington, DC or wherever.

    Link to this
  15. 15. LenkiMoonshine 2:06 pm 05/25/2013

    @John Horgan

    “While defending the use of drone strikes, Obama said that the U.S. should try harder to bring terrorism suspects to justice rather than simply killing them, …”

    Is that why he has authorized their use to kill Americans?
    http://www.mstarz.com/articles/8183/20130205/barack-obama-kill-americans-memo-leaked-white-house-memo-authorizes-drone-attacks-on-us-citizens-with-al-qaeda-ties.htm

    Is it true that Obama has called for restraints on the use of drones while at the same time he has increased their use?
    http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/05/opinion/bergen-obama-drone

    “… Call me a fool, but I still have hope that Barack Obama can become that leader.”

    By his actions, Barack Obama has shown that he is that kind of leader. Are you that kind of follower?

    Link to this
  16. 16. bailiff 2:13 pm 05/25/2013

    @14. Bitrat

    “Yes, yes and yes again….however impractical pacifism seems, in the future it’s the only way….when there’s 10 billion people on the planet and any one of them can walk in a gas station, buy 5 gallons of gas and create mayhem, we’ll have to find a way to inculcate respect for each others’ cultures, religions, races, etc etc.”

    If I might quote Horgan, “Yeah, words are cheap”.

    Link to this
  17. 17. MissionHelper 3:09 pm 05/25/2013

    @14. Bitrat,

    “Is using drones to murder without judicial review (and I mean in a COURT ROOM, not some secret office somewhere) justifiable anywhere, any time?”

    As President Obama has done so much of that, to include U.S. citizens, I suppose he thinks so.

    Link to this
  18. 18. rkipling 3:10 pm 05/25/2013

    bitrat,

    Link to this
  19. 19. rkipling 3:11 pm 05/25/2013

    bitrat,

    Your comment caught my attention, I have a question for you.

    So, help me out with what you are saying? You want to enforce world peace by forcible removal of all weapons? How exactly will that work if the folks with the weapons resist? Will the North Koreans happily hand over their nuclear weapons? How about Syrian chemical and biological weapons? You probably think no one has considered asking them really nicely, right? I could go on.

    It sounds to me as though you are advocating ….what’s the word for it….. it’s right on the tip of my tongue ……. oh yeah, WAR.

    How exactly did you manage to get Day-Room computer privileges again?

    Link to this
  20. 20. GoodBeads 6:38 pm 05/25/2013

    rkipling,

    It seems that once people acquire an emotional commitment to a Utopia they become inaccessible to rational argument.

    Link to this
  21. 21. TemporaryExpedient 7:42 pm 05/25/2013

    “There are so many things that a smart, courageous, imaginative leader can do to help move humanity toward a world without war!”

    It sure would be nice to find out, wouldn’t it? Who knows? After the next Presidential election, maybe we’ll elect a President like that.

    Link to this
  22. 22. m 7:23 am 05/26/2013

    I pride myself on being one of the dumbest people on the planet.

    The only science point made was the complete and permanent cessation of weapons technology development. lol.

    er Yes, perhaps im not the dumbest after all.

    Link to this
  23. 23. rkipling 12:12 pm 05/26/2013

    I would hope the head of MI6 isn’t the absolute dumbest person.

    Link to this
  24. 24. John A. 11:51 am 05/27/2013

    Let me guess, Libya was, but Iraq wasn’t, why? Wasn’t that the official goal of Iraq, to make it into a democracy?

    Link to this
  25. 25. SugarTax 1:10 pm 05/27/2013

    @24. John A.

    “Let me guess, Libya was, but Iraq wasn’t, why?”

    Libya was, but Iraq wasn’t … what?

    “Wasn’t that the official goal of Iraq, to make it into a democracy?”

    No. It wasn’t.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_Iraq

    Link to this
  26. 26. John A. 9:59 pm 05/27/2013

    @Sugar Free, that was the goal after it wasn’t. The point is that that sentence is a truck-sized hole that could be used to justify anything.

    Link to this
  27. 27. SugarTax 5:49 am 05/29/2013

    @26. John A.

    “that was the goal after it wasn’t.”

    What was the goal after it wasn’t the goal?

    “The point is that that sentence is a truck-sized hole that could be used to justify anything.”

    You would do well to remember that the sentence, with or without a “truck-sized hole” was yours, nd not the raison d’être for the invasion of Iraq.

    Link to this
  28. 28. IndyCA35 4:00 pm 05/29/2013

    Why does Scientific American give space to left-wing kooks who merely voice their opinion, absent any facts or analysis?

    Here’s my opinion: Those who beat their swords into plow shares will labor for those that don’t.

    Link to this
  29. 29. syzygy 1:38 pm 05/31/2013

    IndyCA35,

    They don’t recognize them as being left-wing kooks. They see them as moderates.

    Link to this

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