Editorial: War on terror goes on 13 years after 9/11

On the eve of the anniversary of the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, President Barack Obama made clear the nation remains mired in a war not of its making, with no end in sight.

In a nationally televised speech Wednesday, he announced that the military is embarking on an open-ended operation targeting the Islamic State.

Obama urged Congress to show support for the policy, and it should. As the president said, the U.S. must not engage in another full-scale war, unless this nation or its allies are threatened directly. But the nation also cannot ignore the threat posed by the nihilistic terrorists of Islamic State, also known as ISIL.

The president pledged to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” He promised that the effort won’t be a replay of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he will be arming other Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian fighters, which means the introduction of yet more weapons to an unstable region.

“It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” Obama said. “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”

Obama’s recent statement that he didn’t have a strategy for dealing with Islamic State had been infuriating. His strongly pro-American speech countered some of that air of detachment, but questions remain.

How long will this part of the war on terror last? Islamic State provoked the West by cutting off the heads of two journalists. By raining hell-fire missiles down on the terrorists, are we giving these terrorists the world stage they seek? Who are our allies?

Obama seeks to destroy Islamic State in part to protect U.S. citizens and Iraqi infrastructure, oil wells and oil workers. So long as we rely on Middle East petroleum, we will remain enmeshed in Middle East turmoil and find ourselves in byzantine alliances. Obama said the U.S. will not side with Syrian President Bashar Assad. But Assad is among Islamic State’s many enemies.

This nation is weary 13 years after the war on terror began and still must deal with the geopolitical shrapnel of 9/11.

America never has had unlimited blue skies. But there has been a run of gray since 19 minions of Osama bin Laden hijacked two United Airlines flights and two American Airlines flights on the clear bright September morning, and perpetrated the worst attack on this nation since Pearl Harbor.

Most Americans support actions against Islamic State, just as they supported President George W. Bush’s retaliatory strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan 13 years ago. Americans would have had second thoughts if we had known the mission would be going 13 years later, with Afghanistan’s future in doubt, despite our soldiers’ many sacrifices.

Bush attacked Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, its cruel and ruthless dictator. Eight years after Hussein’s death by hanging, Iraq’s future hardly is bright.

On this 13th anniversary of 9/11, a decaying Guantánamo Bay prison houses 149 prisoners at an annual cost of $3 million per inmate, The New York Times reported earlier this month.

The post-9/11 transfer of military equipment to local police has left some Americans feeling unnecessarily intimidated.

We have a massive agency, the Department of Homeland Security, with 200,000 employees, and the National Security Agency has grown, though no one who doesn’t have a need to know can say how far its reach extends. We are, however, reminded often that our right to privacy has eroded.

Immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the nation’s air traffic control system was shut down. For the first time in decades, the sky wasn’t lined with jet contrails. The omission was disconcerting. Our lives have become more so, in many ways, and clear blue skies seem gone for good.

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