The legacy of the ’war on terror’ will take more than an Obama speech to overcome

The take home from Barack Obama’s big foreign-policy speech last week was, basically, that it’s time to ratchet down this country’s dozen-year-running “war on terror.” And while that’s a great thing to hear from our president—it’s been costly, in dollars and lives, and has made the country less safe, less esteemed—the war on terror will take more than a speech to overcome.

A decade ago (a week before the Iraq War's start, in fact, in March 2003), I was traveling across Tunisia, riding a really uncomfortable, ramshackle bike from town to town along the coast. At that time, America was all about its restless hunt for Al Qaeda. If a country such as Tunisia harbored terrorists, then-President George Bush and Co. assured that there would be reckoning.

Saddam Hussein was just a first stop: The war on terror would never end, Bush promised.

People in Tunisia seemed confused, disappointed. I remember stopping at a cafe/house seemingly in the middle of nowhere while on my trek. A man ran out front to greet me, carrying a glass of orange juice. He thought I was French. When I told him the truth, he was startled: He'd never met an American. It took some time to put him at ease and persuade him that I was a decent enough guy. Or at least not some hawkish cowboy.

A decade later—after the Arab Spring, drones, depleted uranium, orphaned children, civilian casualties, all the tragedies that never made it onto U.S. television or into U.S. newspapers—I can only imagine what the average North African or Middle Easterner now thinks.

So, while I'm pleased to hear Obama's words, the war on terror isn't just a couple military invasions or a few seasons of Homeland. Sadly, it's probably a legacy inescapable.