Our Safety And Our Ideals

January 30, 2009

dennis-trainor-headshotDennis Trainor, Jr • Operation Itch writer/ editor header

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The UpTake is opening up a call for Opinion/Editorial videos. To kick this off, I am happy to say, they have brought me in to provide regular video commentary for them. We do not have a name for the show yet, and look forward to hearing ideas for the show’s name from the audience (leave your ideas in the comments). We also hope that more people feel inspired to send us “video op/eds”. To do just that, follow these instructions:

1) Have something intelligent to say; 2) Record it on a video using your real name; 3) Upload it atwww.tubemogul.com using info@theuptake.org as your log in and uptake411 as your password; 4) Send an email to info@theuptake.org telling us about your video. 

Our Safety And Our Ideals

by Dennis Trainor, Jr

Barack Obama wrote the headline to chapter one in his own administration’s history when, with George Bush sitting just feet away and the whole world watching, he seemed to wipe away a whole doctrine with: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

He followed that up by keeping a prominent campaign promise. In signing executive orders that would prevent any officer of the U.S. government from engaging in torture, and setting in motion the legal wheels that will close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Obama signaled that his approach to defense was going to antithetical to the Bush approach bit. 
Didn’t he?

Obama set the tone for his foreign policy in his inauguration speech when he said that earlier generations knew that “our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”


Setting aside, if just for a moment, objections to this bit of revisionist history that would clearly be voiced by residents from and witnesses to the “force of our example” in places like Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Vietnam- among others- that our security has emanated from qualities of “humility and restraint”, it was notable that we did not hear the phrase the “war on terror” in Obama’s inauguration speech.

Was this purposeful?

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, at his first briefing, was asked if Obama was intentionally doing away with the “war on terrorism” metaphor. His response was that that “our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”

Fighting a war against a network implies a definitive ending. 

Fighting a war on terror can be done in perpetuity. It creates a nebulous distinction between friend and enemy, war and peace, the rule of law and the law of rule.

 So, for a country shamed by the behavior of our leaders who managed to squander the global good will sent our way in the months following 9/11 and transform it into a global animosity, the shift in rhetoric was indeed a moment of catharsis. 

Even if Obama could justifiably be accused of choosing falsely between our safety and our ideals while he as a U.S. Senator in voting to re-authorize the Patriot Act and in his support for the FISA bill, his days as a candidate are over, and we should evaluate him as a commander in chief.

Obama is a more complicated man the “you’re either with me or against me” Texas swagger of his predecessor. Lost in the new humble nationalism that swept the nation in his first week, another campaign promise was delivered. Now it is Pakistan that is suffering collateral damage in the war on terror, er, sorry: “the war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”

Are the drone attacks, which killed civilians as well as suspected Al Qaeda members, a way to protect America with “humility and restraint”, or were they a political move, intended to show the world, that Obama will, as promised, not hesitate to use military force? Surely it depends on whom you ask. If you ask the relatives of the Pakistani civilians killed by the U.S. drones, many would feel justified in using the word “terrorism” to describe the attacks on their soil from a nation they are not at war with.

The Foreign Ministry of Pakistan said in a statement: “… it is Pakistan’s sincere hope that the United States will review its policy and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach toward dealing with the issue of terrorism and extremism…”

A holistic approach to dealing with terrorism? While I can’t imagine a yoga retreat with Osama bin Laden is in the cards for President Obama, one can hope for an approach rooted less in flexing military might and political muscle. One can hope for a more academic approach. 

In what they are calling the “First Systematic Examination of the End of Terrorist Groups”, The Rand Corporation analyzed 648 terror groups active between 1969 and 2006 and found that, to end a terrorist organization, “military force was to blunt an instrument.” Elimination by local police or intelligence agencies or peaceful political accommodations accounted for over 80% of incidents in which a terror organization was eliminated. 

Since 9/11, the war we are fighting, no matter what rhetoric you use to describe it, has been fought with a strategy that has involved the sometimes careful, sometimes reckless, application of gasoline in the attempt to put out a fire.

If Obama is intent on ending the Bush “war on terror” he surely knows that the most effective way to stop terrorism is for the U.S. to stop committing acts of terror.


Dennis Trainor, Jr has worked as a writer/ media consultant for Dennis Kucinich’s 2008 presidential campaign and is a contributing writer/ video commentator to The Uptake and OperationItch.com



  1. pretty much summed up my feelings of Obama so far. Also I’ve felt a slight shift in tone when addressing Iran.

  2. […] & ANALYSIS   •  HUMOR  • ARTS & CULTURE •  SEX & RELATIONSHIPS •  ♦ Our Safety And Our Ideals GEMINI JIVE: “Annals of History: Begging Your Pardon?” Outsourcing War: American Mercenary […]

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