The Obama administration has vastly stepped up the use of drones and targeted killings of suspected terrorists in countries like Pakistan and Yemen over the past four years, and in the recent Gaza crisis, President Obama has staunchly defended Israel’s bombing campaign against Palestinian militants. But in 2004, Obama took a considerably different approach to the question of what motivates terrorist activity, and how U.S. foreign policy should respond to acts of political violence.
The comments, unearthed by Up w/ Chris Hayes, came in response to a question about the causes of terrorism at a book event at a Barnes & Noble in New York City on Nov. 23, 2004. Obama, then a senator-elect from Illinois, advocated more of a “soft power” approach to terrorism, and said military might alone would be insufficient to combat terrorism in the long-term.
“Ultimately, terrorism is a tactic. We’re not fighting terrorists, we’re fighting people who engage in terrorism, but have a whole host of rationales and excuses for why they do this,” Obama said. “And to the extent that we can change the sense of opportunity in many of these countries, we can change the manner in which we function in these countries in more positive proactive ways, then we’re not going to eliminate terrorism entirely but we’re at least going to be able to make more of a dent than if all we’re resorting to is military firepower.”
Eight years later, the Obama administration’s approach to terrorism is considerably more reliant on the use of “military firepower,” such as aerial drone strikes and targeted killings of suspected terrorists, including American citizens. Obama’s 2004 comments are also especially notable in light of the recent fighting in Gaza. Many observers, including Yousef Munayyer of The Jerusalem Fund, have argued that American policy in the region has incentivized, rather than discouraged, political violence by groups like Hamas.
“The failure of America’s approach toward the Israelis and the Palestinians, much like its flawed policies toward the region in general, is founded on the assumption that American hard power, through support for Israel and other Middle Eastern governments, can keep the legitimate grievances of the people under wraps,” Munayyer wrote in The New York Times this week. ”By constantly condemning Palestinian armed resistance, and failing to condemn Israeli settlement expansion and repression of nonviolent Palestinian dissent, the message the United States is sending the Palestinian people is this: All resistance to occupation is illegitimate.”