Obama's Future Military Policy: Neither Hawk, nor Dove

By Panetta, Alexander | The Canadian Press, May 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

Obama's Future Military Policy: Neither Hawk, nor Dove


Panetta, Alexander, The Canadian Press


Obama sketches out post-Afghan foreign policy

--

WASHINGTON - With a long, painful war in Afghanistan set to end, President Barack Obama has laid out a vision for future American military policy that settles somewhere between the two extremes of the pendulum's arc.

The foreign military interventionism stemming from the Bush years will soon be over. But the future need not swing completely the other way toward isolationism, Obama said in a speech Wednesday.

He sketched out three different types of conflicts, and the appropriate U.S. responses: America will fight and it won't seek the world's permission when its own safety is at risk, Obama said. It may fight, but only with the support of allies, when outrages occur abroad and the world seeks American help. And sometimes, he said, the world's most powerful military will simply sit out other people's battles.

"Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail," Obama said in a speech to graduating military officers at West Point, N.Y., stressing that diplomacy and development are often better substitutes for raw power.

"I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm's way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.''

The speech attempted to build a coherent narrative from the chaos of recent world events. A damning editorial in the Washington Post this week said the results of his foreign policy choices had been consistently bad -- with al-Qaida regaining power in Iraq, Libya deteriorating, Syria becoming a terrorist haven, and Ukraine getting carved up by Russia.

Now, as his presidency shifts into its final quarter, Obama is looking to narrate his own legacy.

Given the advance billing the White House gave this speech, it's clearly eager to add a foreign-policy line to the political epitaph, alongside health-care reform and climate change: that this 44th president, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office to the expressed bafflement of many people including himself, did eventually pull the U.S. out of two wars that killed more than 6,000 Americans and drained the treasury of up to US$6 trillion.

The timing of Wednesday's speech spoke volumes. It came one day after Obama announced the end of the Afghan conflict, with a complete pullout set for late 2016 -- in an unofficial bookend to the Bush-era wars.

A former Bush adviser reacted scathingly Wednesday. Writing for the Washington Post, Elliott Abrams said the president painted a cartoonish portrait of his opponents' worldview, while taking credit for some of Bush's successes -- such as sanctions in Iran, and past AIDS initiatives in Africa. …

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