Global Fight Against Terrorism No Longer a 'Boundless War,' Obama Says

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. In his big speech on counter terrorism yesterday, President Obama said America is at a crossroads in its fight against terrorism. He said it's no longer a boundless war on terror, but a more focused fight, that eventually he said will end. But what exactly does this mean going forward? We asked Jessica Stern to stop by the studio; she's an expert on American policy on terrorism, and a lecturer at Harvard University.

Jessica Stern: Well I think he's distinguishing between a systematic effort to dismantle terrorist networks and a global war on terrorism, which involves massive amounts of U.S. troops in theatres of war. They're different kinds of policies in my view.

Werman: It was interesting to hear Obama speak yesterday and then the day before hearing from the White House admission in the death of Anwar al-Awlaki and three others including his 16 year old son. So for you, what really has changed then?

Stern: The doctrine has changed. The doctrine will involve a greater reliance on more traditional response to terrorism, which include, in fact, a very dangerous one for the U.S., which is more reliance on intelligence penetrating these groups. That's dangerous, but I think more effective.

Werman: It sounds like you feel that what President Obama laid out yesterday is reasonable, but I mean, the devil will be in the details, won't it?

Stern: Yes, there's a certain amount of vagueness, you're right, in the speech. On the one hand we're ending the global war on terrorism; on the other hand we are going to be involved in a systematic network to dismantle terrorist networks around the globe. I see it as a pullback from an overt military response.

Werman: Do you have in your mind kind of a vision, that if all these things do take place, if this perpetual wartime footing is replaced by something else, could the U.S. ever go back to a pre 9/11 kind of environment?

Stern: I don't think we will be going back to a pre 9/11 environment. While the threat is significantly reduced, we are much more aware of that threat. Those of us who work on terrorism thought we were ignoring a major threat before 9/11, and it would be foolish for us to go back to that state of affairs.
At the same time we need to recognize that terrorism is not in any way the greatest threat to American lives. Driving a car, the weather, those are much more significant threats to American lives than terrorism.

Werman: And maybe people are more realistic now. It's no longer just planes flying into big building, but after we saw what the long wolf, people in London and the Boston Marathon bombings, it's right here in our backyard, isn't it?

Stern: It's right here in our backyard, and I think the president is right that we cannot eradicate every kind of terrorism. There will always be people with malevolent intent. We can go after the networks, but responding as we did after 9/11, in many ways, was counterproductive. And I think the president is spelling that out, saying we have better ways to reduce this threat than going to war.

Werman: Remains to be seen though, what those better ways are.

Stern: It does.

Werman: Well, Jessica Stern, thanks for coming by and speaking with us.

Stern: Thank you.