Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Endless conflict must end

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As the song by the American band Warbringer says, The battle's over but the war rages on. That might be the anthem for the American experience today. It's claimed victory in Iraq and is preparing to lower the flag in Afghanistan -- Osama bin Laden, architect of 9/11 is dead -- but war without end continues, in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and even at home.

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a keynote speech saying the global war on terror -- a word that has become more perplexing with time -- must come to an end.

"This war, like all wars, must end," Mr. Obama said. "That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."

He did not say America must end its battle against terrorist organizations, but the U.S. must be more selective, more careful, more judicious in the use of force and selection of targets.

The new rules he outlined, however, were not about conventional ground forces, but about the use of assassin drones, which have killed hundreds of people in several countries, including at least four American turncoats.

America, Mr. Obama said, will continue to use unmanned aerial vehicles, but it will deploy them less and seek "near certainty" -- the highest standard available -- to ensure innocent civilians are not harmed.

He said he was also open to judicial oversight by a "special court" to regulate drone strikes and ensure they were not used on a hunch or questionable intelligence.

The planned reduction in strikes means the war will go on, but at a slower pace and with more certainty that targets are a real and present danger to America and its allies.

The problem with drones is they are easy to use, and bloodless, at least for the Americans, much like previous generations of smart weapons.

The ability to strike without risking American lives has made war, from an American point of view, more clinical and antiseptic, almost like a computer game, except for the fact real people are killed, many of them innocent, including women and children.

The problem with this situation is it perpetuates hostility and anger, reinforces anti-American attitudes and radicalizes previously disinterested observers.

The use of fire-and-forget weapons has made it too easy to dismiss the idea they are causing suffering, destroying families and demolishing people's homes. It might not be surprising some moderate Muslims have taken up arms against the West when they have witnessed so much American-led death and destruction in their homelands.

At the same time, there are extremist organizations around the world determined to punish the West because of its support for Israel or because it has backed unpopular secular regimes.

America, remember, was demonized as the Great Satan for at least 40 years, long before drones made their first appearance over Pakistan.

Mr. Obama's balanced approach -- fewer strikes and only when necessary for self-defence -- will not end the war in the short term, but hopefully it will reduce the tempo and help America reclaim the moral high ground, which it was in danger of losing through the unrestricted, excessive use of killer attacks from the air.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2013 A10

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