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Republicans: Obama speech a 'retreat' from terror fight

Sen. John McCain speaks to the media before entering a Senate hearing on May 14, 2013 in Washington, DC
Sen. John McCain speaks to the media before entering a Senate hearing in the US Capitol building May 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. McCain, along with other Republican lawmakers, warned that President Barack Obama capitulated to US enemies in his counterterr

Republican lawmakers warned that President Barack Obama capitulated to US enemies in his counterterrorism speech Thursday by renewing his call to close Guantanamo and retreating to a pre-9/11 mindset.

Some of his critics on Capitol Hill appeared taken aback that Obama argued that Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan were headed to defeat, and that he laid out new and potentially restrictive policies on the lethal use of unmanned drones.

"We are still in a long, drawn out conflict with Al-Qaeda," said Senator John McCain, Obama's rival in the 2008 presidential race.

"To somehow argue that Al-Qaeda is quote 'on the run,' comes from a degree of unreality that to me is really incredible."

Obama argued that the United States would not be able to use force everywhere that radicalism takes root, and in essence cautioned against a "perpetual war" that could ultimately prove self-defeating.

But House leaders warned that, after the Boston bombings and signs that terror networks were regrouping in parts of North Africa and elsewhere, now was not the time for a weakened security posture.

"This war will continue whether the president acknowledges it or not," House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul said in a statement.

"The president's policies signal a retreat from the threat of Al-Qaeda, which has decentralized and spread throughout the world," he said, adding that the administration's "return to a pre-9/11 counterterrorism mindset puts American lives at risk."

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce echoed the remarks, citing the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead.

"Now is not the time to abandon robust efforts to keep Americans safe," Royce said. "Al-Qaeda and its affiliates were not on their heels last year, and they clearly are not now."

Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, slammed Obama's speech as "a victory for the prisoners at Guantanamo.

"They see a light at the end of the tunnel," he told AFP.

"I've been a strong advocate of keeping Guantanamo open, sending more prisoners down there to be detained and interrogated so we can gather intelligence."

Instead, Obama urged Congress to lift the restriction on transfer of the detainees, "without any plan of what he's going to do with 166 of the most dangerous killers in the world," Chambliss said.

But McCain softened his tone when it came to the detention facility, pledging "our willingness to work with (Obama) to see that Guantanamo Bay is closed."

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