Andrew is understandably appalled by Obama’s arbitrary decision to commit the U.S. to military action in Libya, but it’s worth revisiting Obama’s record on military intervention to understand why this horrible decision isn’t really a very surprising one. Except for Iraq, there isn’t a single U.S. military intervention abroad that Obama has not endorsed. He specifically cited the Balkan interventions in his Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech as examples of humanitarian intervention he supported. It isn’t just U.S. military action that he has routinely supported. As a Senator, he supported a resolution endorsing the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, and as President-elect he approved of Operation Cast Lead.
Though it is no longer online, there is an article for Culture11 that I wrote published the day after the 2008 election that described what Obama was likely to do in office. Obama has done many of the things I expected him to do in foreign and domestic policy, and I expected him to do them because these were the things he said he would be doing that were consistent with his record:
Bearing all of this in mind, what is an Obama administration therefore likely to do?
It will move to reduce the number of soldiers in Iraq, but it will be very gradual and constrained by the candidate’s commitment to tie withdrawal to “conditions on the ground,” which promises a halting, frequently interrupted departure of combat troops and the maintenance of a large number of “residual” forces that may number as many as 80,000.
The administration will make gestures toward Iran and Syria to determine what negotiations, if any, are possible, but will persist in taking the bipartisan hard-line against Iran’s nuclear program, thus steadily increasing the danger of conflict with Tehran.
Obama will likely send additional brigades to Afghanistan, which will be buffeted by increasing instability from a near-bankrupt Pakistan, whose government will regard Obama warily on account of his stated disregard for Pakistani sovereignty.
Supporting the expansion of the size of the Army and Marine Corps, Obama will also back additional deployments and missions for the military as a whole. Following Vice-President Biden’s advice, Obama will establish no-fly zones in Darfur under auspices of NATO, and as the situation in the Congo deteriorates he may also call for participation in a peacekeeping force. Deployments for humanitarian interventions will be remarkably frequent given other obligations.
Obviously, the specifics of this last paragraph were wrong, but the basic assumption that the administration would be willing to put additional strains on an overburdened military to satisfy humanitarian interventionist impulses has unfortunately been proven correct. It is small consolation to say that Obama has not been quite as cavalier in his use of force as Clinton was or as reckless in intervening as McCain would have been. Obama’s view of the Kosovo war has been a reliable indicator of this, and it is no accident that this intervention depressingly bears a striking resemblance to that deeply misguided, unjust intervention of twelve years ago. For several weeks, it seemed possible that Obama’s caution and reluctance to insert the U.S. into political movements in Arab countries would prevail over the incessant clamoring for war, but in the end Obama remains far too wedded to ideas of American “leadership” and exceptionalism, and to the mistaken belief that our values and interests can be aligned through the use of force.