News / USA

    Obama, Seen as Reluctant Warrior, Addresses Limits of US Power

    FILE - President Barack Obama crosses the White House South Lawn in Washington after arriving on Marine One helicopter from Andrew Air Force Base, Maryland, March 3, 2016.
    FILE - President Barack Obama crosses the White House South Lawn in Washington after arriving on Marine One helicopter from Andrew Air Force Base, Maryland, March 3, 2016.
    Ken Bredemeier

    With less than a year left in his White House tenure, U.S. President Barack Obama says he has reached an overriding conclusion that the United States can be a force for good in world affairs, but by no means can it or should it try to control every uprising that does not threaten its national security.

    In a wide-ranging discourse about his foreign policies during his seven-plus years in office, Obama acknowledged to The Atlantic magazine that he is "controversial" when it comes to the use of American military power, even though he has launched thousands of airstrikes and drone attacks in the Middle East against Islamic State jihadists and provided military support leading to the overthrow of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

    "There's a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow," he told the magazine's correspondent, Jeffrey Goldberg. "It's a playbook that comes out of the foreign policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions."

    Reluctance on Assad

    In one defining foreign affairs moment of his presidency, Obama backed off from an imminent 2013 attack against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when Western experts discovered he had amassed chemical weapons and believed he was ordering their use against rebel groups fighting government forces.

    FILE - A photo taken on August 22, 2013, purports to show some of the estimated 1,000 victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta, Syria.
    FILE - A photo taken on August 22, 2013, purports to show some of the estimated 1,000 victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta, Syria.


    But Obama said he concluded "that while we could inflict some damage on Assad, we could not, through a missile strike, eliminate the chemical weapons themselves, and what I would then face was the prospect of Assad having survived the strike and claiming he had successfully defied the United States, that the United States had acted unlawfully in the absence of a U.N. mandate."

    Realistic on Russia

    Similarly, Obama said he adopted a realistic stance to Russia's 2014 takeover and annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

    "This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for," he said. "And at the end of the day, there's going to be some ambiguity."

    Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin "acted in Ukraine in response to a client state that was about to slip out of his grasp. And he improvised in a way to hang on to his control there. He's done the exact same thing in Syria (in launching airstrikes to support Assad's forces), at enormous cost to the well-being of his own country.

    "And the notion that somehow Russia is in a stronger position now, in Syria or in Ukraine," Obama said, "than they were before they invaded Ukraine or before he had to deploy military forces to Syria is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in foreign affairs or in the world generally."

    FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, with leaders of newly-annexed Crimea in the background, is seen at a rally in Moscow, March 18, 2014. The sign in the background reads "Crimea is in my heart!"
    FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, with leaders of newly-annexed Crimea in the background, is seen at a rally in Moscow, March 18, 2014. The sign in the background reads "Crimea is in my heart!"

    Comments draw silence, criticism

    Saudi Arabia drew Obama’s criticism on a couple of fronts. The president faulted Riyadh for funding Wahhabi madrassas that promote a strict Islamic fundamentalism and for its resistance to effectively “share the neighborhood” with rival Iran, beneficiary of a new nuclear deal negotiated by the United States and other global leaders.

    A spokesman with the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., asked by Foreign Policy to comment on the remarks, tersely said, "No."

    By publicly airing such views, Obama will "inflict further damage" on some already-frayed American alliances, said an op-ed for Israel Hayom written by Elliott Abrams. Now a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Abrams supervised U.S. policy in the region for the George W. Bush administration.

    "American alliances are not in good shape these days, with many countries worrying that ‎President Barack Obama does not value the alliances, their own role in those alliances, or the ‎commitments our alliances imply to the safety of states that are to some degree dependent ‎on the United States,” Abrams wrote.

    Political surveys in the United States have generally shown Obama's views on the limited use of American force overseas are aligned with those of a U.S. public that is wary of more military intervention after years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Republican presidential candidates looking to succeed him when he leaves office next January have denounced his views, saying he has left the United States a weakened power.

    Putting stock in China

    Obama said that in the coming decades the U.S. relationship with China "is going to be the most critical."

    He said that "if we get that right and China continues on a peaceful rise, then we have a partner that is growing in capability and sharing with us the burdens and responsibilities of maintaining an international order."

    But Obama added, "If China fails; if it is not able to maintain a trajectory that satisfies its population and has to resort to nationalism as an organizing principle; if it feels so overwhelmed that it never takes on the responsibilities of a country its size in maintaining the international order; if it views the world only in terms of regional spheres of influence - then not only do we see the potential for conflict with China, but we will find ourselves having more difficulty dealing with these other challenges that are going to come."

    President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Nov. 30, 2015.
    President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Nov. 30, 2015.

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    Comments
         
    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    March 11, 2016 4:03 PM
    Meanbill-That sounds like a very plausible explanation for how events transpired. The IS army turned the tables on us when they saw the chance to create their head chopper army to establish the caveman caliphate. Little did they know that once they committed their reserves by calling all the islamic psychotic murderers from around the world to go there to fight that we would turn the tables on them again and blow their last chance to do what they have been trying to do. Many tens of thousands of their most dedicated murderers have already been dispatched to paradise and they will soon be defeated completely, never to be heard from again. How it could have worked out more to the benefit of the civilized world will be left to the historians.

    by: Mark from: Virginia
    March 10, 2016 9:48 PM
    Not that I am defending Obama (far from it, actually), but I have to say that what the people of this country see, is only a small slice of what actually happens in the corridors and hallways of the U.S. Capital building and the White House. We have blinders on that gives us a very narrow view of what is going on in the Oval Office in regards to matters domestically and internationally.
    We see a 'lead from behind' President, when in reality the truth may be far different. How many times did decisions regarding our military involvement come down to a Presidential word, where the fates of thousands of our troops potentially hung in the balance?
    No one has a crystal ball that can see the futures of every potential decision made and know how it would have affected us, as a Nation. I am sure that President Obama did what he thought was best, and while few outside the sphere of politics may understand what he did, none of the ordinary citizenry could have possibly the slightest clue.
    Until everyone has walked a mile in Obama's shoes, no one has the understanding of the terrible and overwhelming responsibility that is riding on the man's shoulders.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 11, 2016 8:32 AM
    [In 2011], Obama ordered an air assault on Libya (without congressional approval) that killed Qaddafi and turned the country into a failed state, with western supported militias and Libyan militias that have been killing untold thousands of innocent people continuously to this day? .. How many deaths is the Obama (reluctant warrior) responsible for?

    [In 2011], the US started a covert operation against Assad and Syria (without congressional approval), and began arming and training tens of thousands of foreign Sunni Muslim extremists, fanatic and insane in Turkey and Jordan to wage Jihad war on the Shia Muslim government of Assad and Syria to replace it with an unelected handpicked Sunni Muslim government? ..

    But in March of 2013, al-Baghdadi came to Syria from al-Qaeda in Iraq (with only the clothes on his back) to recruit fighters and supporters for al-Qaeda, [but lo and behold], al-Baghdadi found an already made army of tens of thousands of US armed and trained crazies and gave them a better cause to fight and die (as a martyr for) in his newly created ISIL Caliphate army, [and then], in August of 2014 al-Baghdadi led his ISIL army in an invasion of Iraq? .. That's where the ISIL came from? .. How many deaths is the Obama (reluctant warrior) responsible for?

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