Has U.S. Leadership Been Revitalized through Barack Obama's Innovative Use of Force?

By Labouche, Thomas | Connections : The Quarterly Journal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Has U.S. Leadership Been Revitalized through Barack Obama's Innovative Use of Force?


Labouche, Thomas, Connections : The Quarterly Journal


Introduction

The United States developed as a country imbued with the belief that it held a somehow unique and unifying vocation that was best formulated in the key phrase of nineteenthcentury westward expansion "Manifest Destiny," which held that the U.S. had a divinely ordained fate to expand across the North American continent, and ultimately to redeem the Old World. While the twentieth century saw this ideology take concrete form in a nation that eventually achieved the status of a unique superpower, the first decade of the twenty-first century has often been suggested to reflect a relative decline in the United States' global standing. Assuming that this decline is unavoidable would be to participate in a form of fatalism, allowing neither the chance for the United States' core strengths to demonstrate the contrary, nor the possibility that geopolitical events may at some point potentially keep other countries from rising.

If, during the last Bush Administration, the United States frequently resorted to the use of hard power as a quick answer to certain issues, under Barack Obama's presidency, some events have suggested a change in the way the U.S. resorts to hard power, eventually "re-casting the way America should approach the world." !

Indeed, numerous cases have indicated that the U.S. is currently more moderate than could have been expected, based on the previous eight years. For example, President Obama announced in 2010 the plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Simultaneously, and especially in 2011, the White House exerted unusual pressure on Israel with respect to the latter' s potential action against Iran.2 Parallel to that, events in Libya during the fall of the Gaddafi regime did not reflect an unquestioning willingness to resort to force; indeed, haste seems to be the last word to use to describe the White House's approach to intervention in Syria as well. Concretely, more emphasis has been placed on diplomacy and low-profile actions, such as frequent use of armed drones, targeted elimination, and negotiation (although some of these actions have received significant media attention). Surrounding this unusual stance, a desire to clarify relations with Islam has also emerged. Manifested in President Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo, this more temperate approach has perhaps helped mitigate some resentment against U.S. military interventionism throughout the Muslim world.

Obama, who was believed - at least from a European perspective - to be a much more peaceful president than his predecessor, has remained above all a Commander-inChief, seeing himself as elected and inclined to act to protect U.S. interests.3 He seems to view the option to use military force - as reflected in the 2010 National Security Strategy - through the lens of attempting to rebalance the use of force, to render the decision somehow surprising, and less predictable than in the past.4 All in all, the United States has seemed to adopt a new approach to the use of force, one combining reflective moderation and the judicious use of military assets.

Given this framework, the thesis of this article is that a new approach to the decision about whether to resort to force could give the U.S. the opportunity to revitalize its global leadership. This revitalization springs from three advantages that such an approach offers. First, moderation will mitigate the resentment triggered by previous excessive U.S. military interventionism. Second, withdrawal from the open-ended wars that are part of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) will allow energy to be refocused on the Obama Administration's other core priorities (economy, education). Third, a flexible and adaptive military culture will help deter or address current and upcoming threats. These foundations will assist the revitalization of U.S. leadership around the world. Consequently, this essay will analyze Obama' s doctrine by reviewing some main events reflecting his "unspoken" foreign policy doctrine, before advocating for a more flexible military capability that will participate in returning the United States to a position of political and moral leadership, if used wisely. …

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