Jacob Heilbrunn is half right about Obama:
The belief that Obama has presided over an era of retrenchment presumes that he has had a coherent foreign policy.
That’s true as far as it goes, but the bigger problem is that it presumes that retrenchment has occurred. To the extent that any retrenchment has happened on Obama’s watch, it has happened in spite of him. If he had his way, there would still be a residual force in Iraq–not that it would have done any good. The reality is that very little retrenchment has happened. This is the president that escalated one war, committed the U.S. to another unnecessary conflict in Libya, and has launched yet another military campaign on his own authority in Iraq and Syria. If this is an administration that has presided over retrenchment, I’d be curious to see what the opposite would look like.
It’s plainly dishonest to describe this as a record of retrenchment in any meaningful sense, but if there is one thing that Obama’s hawkish critics have mastered it is dishonesty. The trouble with Obama is not that he engages in “empty talk” about “red lines,” but that he freely makes commitments over foreign disputes and conflicts that no one back home has debated or seriously thought through. Obama doesn’t indulge in “empty talk,” but keeps being drawn into backing up statements that he should never have made. Would that Obama engaged in empty talk. At least then the U.S. wouldn’t be perceived to be on the hook for every random utterance he has made in response to the latest news cycle. It would be much better if Obama’s statements on many of these issues could be dismissed as meaningless, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. They nearly locked the U.S. into a war against the Syrian government last year, they have dragged the U.S. into a new war this year, and they might very well pull the U.S. into yet another war in the years to come. Nothing would be more welcome than to dismiss what Obama says as “empty talk,” but both Obama and his hawkish critics won’t allow that.