The consequential part of the speech dealt with Obama’s views on the nature of the war. On even this, the president is nothing if not cynical. He proclaimed himself the scourge of what he freely called “violent jihad” — evidently figuring no one would remember he’s the guy who purged words like “jihad” from the government’s counterterrorism lexicon. But when it came to the ideology of our enemies, the speech really did get interesting.
For one thing, the president actually acknowledged not only that the threat to the United States is ideologically based, but also that the adherents of this ideology are Muslim extremists. This was a refreshing change from his wont of calling the threat “violent extremism” (violence being a consequence, not an ideology), and pretending that its adherents are anti-Islamic.
Obama continues to miniaturize the threat, treating it as if it were primarily limited to the “decimated” faction of al-Qaeda in the Afghan–Pakistan border region — the better to rationalize a return to the pre-9/11 days of treating terrorism as a mere crime problem. The president did, however, admit that al-Qaeda had spread across the Middle East — although, counterfactually, he maintains that this more “diffuse” terror network, while “lethal,” is “less capable” than it was twelve years ago.
The president’s main point was that the war is nearing an end because . . . he wants it to be over.