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Why would President Obama say a “decade of war” is over when it isn’t?

President Obama's inaugural address made him sound like a new man. "We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war," he said. He told us that "a decade of war" is ending under his watch. 

How did Americans hear that pledge? If you've been paying attention to the United States' increasingly dangerous shadow wars, its proxy wars, its drone wars — or "kinetic operations," as some call them — you were likely very surprised and put off to hear the President say that "lasting peace" doesn't "require perpetual war." 

"We see what you are doing, Mr. President," I thought to myself. "How could you say such a thing?" Hearing such a blatant misrepresentation of reality made me feel as if I was a child again, and my parents were telling me what they thought to be a harmless lie.

Are the American people children, afraid of the night?

We've been told that there are only two options when it comes to the (alternatively grave or minor) threat posed by al Qaeda and "associated forces": we can either invade Muslim majority countries and occupy them (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), or we can bomb them occasionally and engage in covert operations (like we do in Pakistan and Yemen, etc.). When the President asserted that a "decade of war" was ending, he most likely meant that he's trying to exit Afghanistan — that the US military occupation of that nation is going to end. 

But he pulled a linguistic trick on the country that should make us all very uncomfortable about how our president perceives those other violent expressions of US military will — and how he perceives us.

What do our drone strikes and other shadowy operations constitute, after all, if not war? Certainly those bombs are not messengers of peace.

Writing for Esquire, Tom Junod warns that calling a permanent state of covert war "peace" will have very dangerous consequences.

Why didn’t the President’s speech reflect [the reality of the shadow wars]? Why did he say that the “decade of war” prompted by Al Qaeda’s attack on America is ending, when by his Administration’s own insistence it is not? The answer is that he did because he could — and that he could because he has cast this war as a war against war, and because his investment in secrecy has yielded an inestimable return. No one expected him to speak about drones in a speech rhetorically haunted by bound wounds and better angels. But no one, certainly, could have expected him to wish our wars away, when American soldiers are still being killed in Afghanistan, and when we are still killing people — and, in the name of war, reserving the right to keep killing people — all over the world.
President Obama’s second inaugural was supposed to sound something like Lincoln’s: the speech of a man tired of war, and eager to move the nation beyond its bloody reach. In truth, it was the speech of a man who has perfected a form of war that can be written off as a kind of peace. 
That "form of war that can be written off as a kind of peace" goes by another name: a dirty war. The history of United States covert operations shows us that these dirty wars are far from new, but is there something different about them today?
Arguably, technology has revolutionized the ways in which the United States pursues covert operations. Now we don't even need to send any spies to other countries before we kill their people in covert missions. Satellites and drones can do all the work for us. Foreign wars can be waged without ever leaving US soil. The game has surely changed.
That "game" and the weapons deployed to wage it are the subject of a new film produced by Brave New Films and co-written by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. The website for "Dirty Wars," which premiered at Sundance on January 21, 2013, describes the film:
What begins as a report into a U.S. night raid gone terribly wrong in a remote corner of Afghanistan quickly turns into a global investigation of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
As Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is pulled into a world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams “find, fix, and finish” their targets, who are selected through a secret process. No target is off limits for the “kill list,” including U.S. citizens.
Drawn into the stories and lives of the people he meets along the way, Scahill is forced to confront the painful consequences of a war spinning out of control, as well as his own role as a journalist.
We encounter two parallel casts of characters.
The CIA agents, Special Forces operators, military generals, and U.S.-backed warlords who populate the dark side of American wars go on camera and on the record, some for the first time.
We also see and hear directly from survivors of night raids and drone strikes, including the family of the first American citizen marked for death and being hunted by his own government.
Dirty Wars takes viewers to remote corners of the globe to see first-hand wars fought in their name and offers a behind-the-scenes look at a high-stakes investigation.
We are left with haunting questions about freedom and democracy, war and justice.
When President Obama spoke during his inaugural address about ending a "decade of war," he most likely didn't mean ending these CIA and special operations missions. In fact, he has just appointed his drone war czar, John Brennan, to serve as CIA director, raising questions about the future of the clandestine organization's role in para-military operations. Will the CIA continue to wage secret drone wars? Or will Brennan shift responsibility for those bloody operations back to the military, where they ostensibly face more stringent oversight? 
A clue may come from Brennan's own conduct at the White House, where he is reportedly laying the bureaucratic groundwork for the institutionalization of the drone war. The government says this "drone rulebook" will serve as the legal and operational guidelines for killer special operations missions. We already know that the so-called "rulebook" doesn't and won't apply to the CIA's missions in Pakistan, the site of the most US drone attacks. So we know what it won't do, then. Will we ever get to read it, to see what it will do?
If the administration continues down the path it has walked for the past four years, we can be sure that we will remain utterly ignorant of its contents and therefore in the dark about the legal, moral and strategic framework that enables ongoing killing in our names. After all, even Senator Ron Wyden — a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee — still has not seen the legal memos that authorize the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. So why would the government show them to us, just lowly citizens?
Secret law isn't really law at all, is it? If no one outside the top echelons of government knows what the rules are, those rules don't really exist, do they? But what of secret wars?
Certainly the bloodshed couldn't be more real for the people depicted in Scahill's film or for the thousands of others living in the cross hairs of US weapons. Dead bodies are hard to hide or explain away, try as some might.
Nevertheless, President Obama's inaugural address made it clear that our leader isn't going to use his second term to start affirmatively leveling with the American people about why we are engaged in these wars, how he can legally justify them, or when we will stop fighting them. Quite to the contrary: he pretended that these wars don't even exist.
Are we to accept being treated like children, who must be protected from the truth about what our government is doing or why? 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.