Obama In 2004: 'We're Not Fighting Terrorists, We're Fighting People Who Engage In Terrorism'

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During a November 2004 reading and Q&A session to promote his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," President Obama, then a senator-elect, detailed his views on the motivations behind terrorism and the role U.S. foreign policy plays in such situations.

The comments, unearthed by MSNBC's "Up W/Chris Hayes," came when Obama was asked about terrorism at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York City. In his answer, Obama advocated for more of a "soft power" approach, or using attraction rather than coercion or force when dealing with foreign powers.

"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, Obama's past comments are particularly notable in the context of his approach to counterterrorism as president. As The Huffington Post's Joshua Hersh reported, Obama's response to terrorism -- particularly through the use of drone strikes -- will be a major challenge in his second term:

As it stands now, the Obama administration, which vastly stepped up the use of drones and targeted killings over the past four years, has done little to assuage the concerns of outsiders about the program's legality or utility. Indeed, the drone program's components are so secret that the administration routinely refuses to acknowledge that it even exists.

In a second term, that stonewalling may no longer be possible, particularly as new questions are raised about whether the program is legal, or if it even works. The fact that administration officials have offered justifications for the program in narrow speeches and interviews only adds to that sense of inevitability.

"It's very unclear what the United States is actually doing in Yemen other than they carry out bombings and people on the ground are dying," said Gregory Johnsen, an expert on Al Qaeda in Yemen and the author of a new book on the subject. "Who's dying, whether or not they're actually Al Qaeda -- we just don't know."

Obama's 2004 comments have resurfaced just days after deadly fighting between Israel and Hamas temporarily halted in a ceasefire agreement. Some, including the Jerusalem Fund's Yousef Munayyer, have argued that American policies toward Israel and Palestine have sent the wrong message about using violence.

"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 a New York Times op-ed. "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."

Prior to the ceasefire agreement, Obama said the United States is "fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself."



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