Conflicting Accounts of Obama’s Foreign Policy Achievements
Andrew Sullivan wants Obamaites to more aggressively tout the President’s foreign policy achievements:
“I think the Obamaites need to be more aggressive in foreign policy arguments. Obama ended one war in Iraq, dispatched Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi without a single US casualty, re-set relations with Russia, brought unprecedentedly united international pressure against Iran’s nuclear bomb potential, wiped out much of al Qaeda’s mid-level leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and presided over democratic revolutions in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain. He restored this country’s moral credibility after the dark period of Nazi-style interrogation under Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld.”
The above resume of accomplishments is in no small part why Peter Bergen calls our 44th President the “Warrior in Chief.” So why don’t we hear more about all of these impressive feats? Probably because the campaign season is only just getting started. With Romney declared the unofficial winner of the Republican Primary the real race can get underway. Which is to say we will probably hear about the President’s role in all of these things to a dizzying degree over the next several months.
And with any luck, the next several months will provide ample time to comb over said achievements and decide whether or not the President should be congratulated for them.
For instance, I’m not sure what it means to say that “Obama ended one war in Iraq.” What does it mean to end “war” in that country? If “ending” simply means pulling out then yes, I suppose having been the one to issue the order, Obama is responsible for ending the war in Iraq (even if thousands of U.S. officials and hundreds of private mercenaries continue to stay there).
What about “dispatched Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi without a single US casualty?” Again, if issuing the order counts as dispatching, then I suppose Obama did “dispatch” Osama bin Laden. To take a moment and look at the raid more closely though, is something the President should be praised for? The raid succeeded. What if it hadn’t? What if we could re-run the events of that day a thousand times over, and 75% of the time it resulted in U.S. casualties and bin Laden escaping? We’ll never know of course. Bergen raises the issue in his piece,
“SOME of Mr. Obama’s top advisers worried that the intelligence suggesting that Bin Laden was in the Abbottabad compound was circumstantial and much too flimsy to justify the risks involved. The deputy C.I.A. director, Michael J. Morell, had told the president that in terms of available data points, ‘the circumstantial evidence of Iraq having W.M.D. was actually stronger than evidence that Bin Laden was living in the Abbottabad compound.’”
President Obama took a gamble and it paid off. There is a difference between making a touch decision and making a risky one. But rather than present that reality, Obama’s campaign will instead present a 17 minute documentary detailing the raid. Even if the President explicitly takes credit for issuing the raid and the ensuing success, to shamelessly use it for self-promotional purposes is a bit repulsive. Sullivan argues that McCain did something similar by constantly trumpeting his own military credentials. Whatever one thinks of McCain though (and I am not big fan) the difference between making a decision in the White House and being tortured for years as a prisoner of war cannot be overstated.
Then there’s Qaddafi. Did the President issues orders that directly led to the dispatching this second criminal? Not quite. But he did “lead from behind” and order the bulk of the military assets responsible for de-clawing Qaddafi to engage in that civil war. Of course the fighting there is still continuing (as it has in Iraq), and I’m not sure anyone should be pat on the back just yet.
Next, Obama “re-set relations with Russia” and “brought unprecedentedly united international pressure against Iran’s nuclear bomb potential.” Well, things with Russia sound as complicated as ever. I won’t begrudge him this victory though. I am not well versed in this area of international relations, so I’ll concede it. On Iran I remain agnostic. If war doesn’t break out between our two countries over the next few years he should be commended. For now it’s too early to say.
In his most dubious claim, Sullivan exclaims that President Obama “wiped out much of al Qaeda’s mid-level leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” This is claim is dubious because Sullivan fails to note the President’s central means of doing so: escalated drone bombings which have killed at least as many civilians as terrorists.
This fact directly calls into question Sullivan’s remaining two points. If the President should be congratulated for presiding over democratic revolutions in other countries (many of which have occurred despite U.S. pressure for them not to), then he should also be congratulated for presiding over global warming and high unemployment.
And I’ll leave it to Glen Greenwald to refute the rest,
“Andrew Sullivan — who once called for Obama to be prosecuted as a war criminal for his complicity in Bush war crimes — today rhapsodizes that Obama “restored this country’s moral credibility after the dark period of Nazi-style interrogation under Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld.” Among whom exactly did he do that?”