Obama, Not yet a pacifist. Not yet.

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama looks at a portrait hanging in the Superintendent's quarters at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in West Point, N.Y., before delivering a speech on his new Afghanistan strategy, Dec. 1, 2009.

Article Highlights

  • Many have suggested that President #Obama’s opposition to any decisive action on Syria is political. @DPletka

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  • “Don’t get me wrong, Barack Obama isn’t yet a pacifist.” @DPletka

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  • Does Obama believe the US has a role that goes beyond the targeting/elimination of terrorists attacks against the US?

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Many have suggested that President Obama’s opposition to any decisive action on Syria – be it arming the rebels, supporting safe zones, supporting the creation of a government in exile – is political.  He doesn’t, the theory goes, want the United States embroiled in any way in another conflict involving Muslims, Arabs, the Arab Spring, whatever. At least not before the elections because a) his base hates war; b) it’s too complicated; c) it’s too expensive; d) whatever. But it’s time to consider another possibility: The President does not believe that the United States has any role to play in the world that goes beyond the targeting and elimination of terrorists planning and operationalizing attacks against the United States – a sort of limited jurisdiction policeman who can act when probable cause impels him, but must otherwise remain in his patrol car, or better still, at the station waiting for a terrorist to be sighted.

Those who disagree are going to point to the surge in Afghanistan and U.S. support for NATO efforts in Libya and suggest those cases demonstrate Obama’s bona fides as an international leader bent on sustaining a global role for the United States beyond the war on terror and trade. But it’s just the opposite. Both the war in Afghanistan that the President is desperately winding down, the war in Iraq that he “ended,” and the intervention in Libya that he reportedly regrets deeply are proof of his evolution away from any leadership role for the United States in the seminal conflicts of the new century.

Don’t get me wrong, Barack Obama isn’t yet a pacifist. I suspect that is the case simply because to be one is politically infeasible in America today. Nor should the drone strikes the President apparently authorizes on a kill by kill basis be construed as anything more than a bloodless (insofar as possible) means of pursuing domestic security. The Awlakis and Haqqanis late of this world disappear like blips on a screen, certainly a more desirable option that their continuing to gad about unimpeded, but not necessarily a better option than their arrest and interrogation.

Yesterday, French President Francois Hollande called on the Syrian opposition to form a government in exile and pledged to recognize it; he confirmed that France is examining the possibility of “buffer zones” inside Syria, something the Turks and others reportedly support. Who doesn’t support either of these moves? Barack Obama. Why? It could be the elections, to be sure  But it’s time to recognize that Obama’s declarations opposing mass atrocities and speeches implying an interest in the prosecution of Assad’s war on the Syrian people are little more than the polite protestations expected of the putative leader of the free world.  There’s nothing behind them, because, perhaps, the President intends there to be nothing behind them.

 

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About the Author

 

Danielle
Pletka

  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.


    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


     


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.


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