Gideon Rachman’s description of Obama’s foreign policy leaves a lot to be desired:
Mr Obama’s actions speak as loudly as his words. He intervened only reluctantly in Libya, and America’s arm’s-length attitude to the conflict gave birth to the now-famous phrase “leading from behind”. The president’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel to run the Pentagon suggests that he remains instinctively anti-interventionist [bold mine-DL].
If Obama were “instinctively anti-interventionist,” I would be pleased, but we all know that this isn’t true. I’m not interested in rehearsing Obama’s foreign policy record at length, but I do want to point out that no one can review that record and conclude that he is “instinctively anti-interventionist.” That’s no surprise. There are very few people in Washington in either party that could be described this way. It is common for many people in both parties to object to a particular military intervention, but to be “instinctively anti-interventionist” is much more unusual. To qualify for that description, one would not only have to be skeptical of the efficacy of military action in most cases, but one would also have to assume that there is something inherently wrong in interfering in the affairs of other countries. Believers in global interdependence and American leadership, such as Obama and Hagel, simply don’t share that assumption. Are they also less likely than many other politicians to favor the use of force as a solution to every crisis? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that their instincts will consistently lead them to oppose intervention.
It’s true that the administration’s decision to intervene in Libya was a grudging one, but the U.S. still launched an unnecessary war to overthrow a foreign government that didn’t threaten the U.S. or its allies. Would an “instinctively anti-interventionist” president do that? No. For that matter, would someone with such instincts rely on advice from Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and the like? Certainly not. If Rachman said that Obama is wary of new foreign conflicts and additional entanglements for the U.S., I would agree with him, but it’s just inaccurate to describe Obama in the way that Rachman does.
I hope that the consequences of the Libyan war have made the administration more cautious about the use of force. It would be good news if that makes them more reluctant to support military action elsewhere. But if Obama were as “instinctively anti-interventionist” as Rachman claims, there wouldn’t be any doubt about this.