Obama: A Cautious Warrior President

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The international assault on Libya has shown Barack Obama to be a cautious presidential warrior who has reframed US rules for war abroad after absorbing the painful lessons of Iraq.

Though he escalated the Afghan conflict, one of two wars he inherited, the Libyan action is the first military adventure Obama has actually launched and reveals key aspects of his philosophy as commander in chief.

The president's preference for avoiding overseas entanglements led him to anchor his political rise on opposition to "dumb" wars.

He was against the Iraq invasion launched by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush in 2003 -- notably eight years to the day before Saturday's US-led salvo of 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Libya.

In office meanwhile, his quest to get troops home from resource-draining wars in Iraq and eventually Afghanistan is a bedrock theme of his presidency.

In a speech to Americans on Saturday while on a visit to Brazil, Obama laid down the conditions for US involvement in the effort to protect civilians and halt Moamer Kadhafi's brutal advance on rebels in Libya.

"I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice, and it's not a choice that I make lightly," Obama said, explaining why, despite his caution, the United States should act.

The comments followed a revealing speech to Americans on Friday, which again shed light on Obama's criteria for using force.

He made clear that though the United States wants Kadhafi gone, the goal of the action is not regime change, the concept favored by neo-conservatives after the September 11 attacks in 2001, which led the country into Iraq.

Obama, who obtained a UN mandate for the Libyan assault, also stated that all action must be multilateral, with clear legal backing, and that no US ground troops will be deployed in a third foreign war, in a sign of wariness for more costly US entanglements abroad.

"American leadership is essential, but that does mean acting alone. It means shaping the conditions for the international community to act together," Obama said, repeatedly stressing the multilateral nature of the offensive.

His remarks formed a clear break from the unilateral approach to foreign policy used by Obama's predecessor over the war with Iraq and appeared to augur an era of American power being deployed in concert with foreign partners. …