Four Moments In His Security Speech When Obama Passed the Buck to Congress

US President Barack Obama speaks as a protester shouts during a speech about his administration’s drone and counterterrorism policies, as well as the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, May 23, 2013. 

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Maybe that headline’s a little unfair. We have a divided government; Congress holds the purse strings; Congress passed the 2001 Authorization of Force in Iraq. But most discussion of foreign policy focuses on the president, the commander-in-chief. Why didn’t he close Gitmo, like he promised? Is he saying he and he alone can kill citizens with drone attacks?

At four moments in his speech today, the president pointed at Capitol Hill and asked it to move on or admit its role in the security decisions that have become so controversial.


1. “After I took office, my Administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that – not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP.”


Translation: Congress has been aware of these drone attacks. Its leaders have not leaked. They support the policy.

2. “Over the past decade, we have strengthened security at our Embassies, and I am implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi. I have called on Congress to fully fund these efforts to bolster security, harden facilities, improve intelligence, and facilitate a quicker response time from our military if a crisis emerges.”


Translation: That’s enough finger-wagging about Benghazi, and I align myself with Democrats who say the real problem was that you guys weren’t pouring enough money into the diplomatic budget.

3. “I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.”

Translation: Instead of attacking me for whether I use the word “terror” in a speech, if you’re actually concerned about the shadow war you can absolutely repeal the authority that lets us fight it. (Rand Paul has talked about doing so.)

4. “Given my Administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened. Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO.”

Translation: The Gitmo debacle is on you. You ground me down in 2009, promising to block funding and locations for prisoner transfers, before turning around and attacking me for breaking a campaign promise.