Monday, October 24, 2011

Obama's Military & Foreign Policy Successes: How Did He Do It?

In three short years, President Obama has been able to do what President Bush could not do in eight: Destroy the leadership of Al Qaeda, get the last U.S. troops out of Iraq, and assist in toppling two Middle Eastern dictators. Were it not for the albatross of Afghanistan bequeathed by his predecessor, Obama would pretty much have a clean sweep.

So how did he do it?

It has taken a combination of:

* Consensus building between the White House, Pentagon and State Department that sometimes takes months before decisions are reached.

* Carefully calibrated responses rather than massive troop deployments.

* An emphasis on multilateralism and not unilateralism, including the involvement of NATO countries.

* When and where possible, diplomacy over bellicosity.

* Good old-fashioned police work in sniffing out domestic terrorism.

* Avoidance of the kind of triumphalism in which the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis reveled.

* While Republicans were once the leaders in foreign policy, they have for the most part been struck deaf and dumb, allowing the president to chart his own course.

Obama also has been incredibly lucky insofar that Iran has pretty much minded its own businesses, Israel and Palestine remain stalemated but not at war, and other potential hotspots have not boiled over.

"Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end," Obama said as he took a muted victory lap after the death of Colonel Moammar el-Qaddafi. "We've demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century."

Some Republicans, trapped in the party's echo chamber, still claim that Obama is weak on terrorism and leads from behind, while an aide to presidential candidate Mitt Romney had the temerity to say Quaddafi's death "does not validate" the president's approach to Libya.

Senator John McCain was been one of the few to praise the president.

"I think the administration deserves great credit," McCain said in an interview on CNN. "Obviously, I had different ideas on the tactical side, but the world is a better place."

It was Obama's future secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose memorably called the future president's ability to be decisive on foreign policy in a television ad that questioned whether voters could trust him to take a 3 a.m. call in the Oval Office about a world crisis.

"It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep, but there's a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. Something is happening in the world," the ad said. "Who do you want answering the phone?"

Those doubts have been all but erased, but for all of the successes, the future of what I call the Obama Doctrine is fraught with peril.

Chief among them is turning over security in Afghanistan to the Afghans.

Largely unnoticed, Obama quietly ordered 100 armed military advisers to Uganda earlier this month where they will help regional forces fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, a renegade group that has gone on rape and murder sprees in central Africa, and similar limited interventions are said to be in the planning stages elsewhere.

Some or all of those interventions could go wrong.

Photograph by Amru Salahuddien/Xinhua/Newscom

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