Friday, June 14, 2013

The Anti-Quagmire President (So Far)

On Obama and Syria: the one area of national security and foreign policy in which Barack Obama really has earned the benefit of the doubt is about slippery slopes, quagmires, and otherwise getting trapped into military adventurism that expands despite everyone's best intentions. 

His record on this is really quite impressive. He got out of Iraq (yes, he was only following George W. Bush's policy and a signed agreement with the Iraqis, but it wouldn't have been the first time a president managed to keep troops where they weren't really wanted). His intervention in Libya was limited and stayed limited. In Mali, Yemen, and other conflicts, he committed to a minimal level of action and stuck with it. And in Afghanistan, he "surged" -- but then de-escalated and appears to be on a path to continue getting out. At no point that I remember did the Obama Administration give in to the kinds of "in for a dime, in for a dollar" arguments that wind up leading to real messes. The administration has consistently been willing to absorb predictable attacks for bugging out too early or for doing too little.

Perhaps Syria will turn out different -- and those who oppose intervention there (or I suppose those who support the current level of intervention but oppose any further action) should obviously be advocating for what they want rather than just trusting Obama. But overall...he hasn't earned anyone's trust on civil liberties or open government, and he's made his share of foreign policy/national security blunders, but he might be the best since Ike at knowing how to keep engagements limited.


  1. Actually, Obama wanted to stay in Iraq longer than Bush did. We only left because the Iraqi's kicked us out. (Although I believe we still have a large army of contractors there)

    In Afghanistan the President made the controversial move of copying Bush's "surge" policy in a conflict that everyone knew must end eventually. Even Biden was against the plan.

    Now it looks like we're going to begin arming Syrian rebels.

    And let's not forget that the drone war has been escalated significantly (and broadened to include American citizens).

    Regarding his Gitmo promise, there's been no real progress on giving detainees a trial. And while Obama supports due process in principle, he took the outrageous step of allowing future detentions of suspects found on American soil (even American citizens).

    1. Couves, Congress has blocked every action he could take on Gitmo. You're arguing that he hasn't picked a fight with Congress on an issue they refuse to budge about.

      Put pressure where it belongs: on the right.

    2. Anon, he doesn't need Congress. He could try them using the courts marshal system.

    3. "Actually, Obama wanted to stay in Iraq longer than Bush did." Never heard this. Where are you getting it?

      The drone war was escalated, but it peaked in 2010 and the pace has slowed every year since:

    4. "Actually, Obama wanted to stay in Iraq longer than Bush did. We only left because the Iraqi's kicked us out."

      He followed the Bush schedule for withdrawal, but the former Bush people then attacked him for it, saying they never really intended to do it. (Again, though, you never know if you can take anything they say at face value.)

    5. Nathan and Scott, from an old article:

      President Obama wanted to stay longer -- as recently as a few weeks ago asking the Iraqi government to allow 10,000, then 3,000 troops to remain past New Year's Eve.

      But the president ultimately had no choice but to stick to candidate Obama's plan -- thanks, of all things, to an agreement signed by George W. Bush.

      The Obama administration wanted to stay longer and actually entered into negotiations to achieve this. You may remember that the sticking point was over granting immunity to US servicemen, which the Iraqi's didn't want to do.

    6. Couves, I don't dispute that the administration hoped to keep a certain number of troops in Iraq longer. I believe it was more to assure stability than to engage in an active combat role, so "staying longer" doesn't necessarily mean staying in the same capacity. In any event, Iraq said no, Obama didn't really press it.

    7. Actually, the Iraq discussion needs some context. The military brass wanted to stay in Iraq. The negotiations were basically a cover to keep the brass at bay, especially since the Obama administration knew that Iraqi politics would NEVER allow Maliki to make a deal. For the sake of the military brass, it looks like you're negotiating to stay longer, but you know nothing is going to happen. Win/win. And there was never any ground work laid by the Obama Administration to explain to the public why the US would keep troops there. That's how you know it was never going to happen.

    8. Anon, that would be plausible if this were an isolated event. But the reality is that Obama has generally supported the policies of the "war on terror" crowd. Heck, he even signed the Patriot Act and the NDAA (the latter, signed on new years eve, being so outrageous that Obama felt it necessary to say that he'd never use the powers of detention granted by it).

      Perhaps Obama is a closet neocon. But the more likely explanation is that it is more politically convenient for him to offend civil libertarians than it is to go against the security-industrial complex. For a party that seems destined to nominate an even more anti-freedom candidate in 2016, you'd think there'd be more concern about this.


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