Obama’s Legacy: War Without End
Gene Healy comments on the dreary foreign policy legacy Obama leaves behind:
In a speech to US troops last month, he denounced the “false promise” that “we can eliminate terrorism by dropping more bombs,” and piously proclaimed that “democracies should not operate in a state of permanently authorized war.”
An audacious statement—given that it is Obama himself who’s made perpetual warfare the new normal, and the president the ultimate “decider” in matters of war and peace. Where George W. Bush secured congressional authorization for the two major wars he fought, Obama has launched two undeclared wars (in Libya and against ISIS), ordered 10 times as many drone strikes as his predecessor, and this summer bombed six different countries just over Labor Day weekend. And it is Obama who is largely responsible for warping the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force—passed three days after 9/11 to target Al Qaeda and the Taliban—into an enabling act for endless war, anywhere in the world.
Obama has been able to do this in part because he has had the luxury of facing virtually no organized opposition to any of his wars on any grounds. Media coverage of his interventions has tended to be favorable or neutral, and even when his policies have come under some criticism it has never been sustained for long enough to do him much political damage. He has faced scant opposition within his own party, and in most cases he has faced even less from his otherwise vehement political opponents. Even when he is challenged on waging unauthorized wars, very few oppose his interventions outright, and there aren’t even enough of the former in Congress to force a debate or vote on any current U.S. military engagements.
While presenting himself as the president responsible for ending America’s foreign wars, he has involved the U.S. in at least four new ones to one degree or another since the spring of 2011. However, his decisions to initiate, escalate, or join these wars have faced remarkably little scrutiny and even less resistance. Obama is responsible for his own policies, but he could not have done so much at such low political cost if both Congress and the press weren’t so content to accept presidential warmaking. Thanks to the constant berating of hawks that he is too “passive” and the bleating of foreign policy pundits that Obama is guilty of “inaction” abroad, the president has been able to get away with being one of the most interventionist foreign policy presidents in modern U.S. history while being viewed by many in both parties as very nearly the exact opposite.
Perhaps the most horrifying and least-known part of this legacy is the disgraceful U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. U.S. refueling, arms, and intelligence have enabled the coalition to wreck Yemen’s infrastructure and devastate its economy while committing numerous documented war crimes through indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on civilian targets. The U.S. has backed this war at the same time that the coalition has blockaded and starved the civilian population of basic necessities, and millions of lives are at risk from starvation and preventable diseases as a result. U.S. involvement here is quite insidious because it is enabling enormous destruction while being much less visible than in other places. Throughout this shameful war, the U.S. has pretended that it is not a party to the conflict, and for the most part the Obama administration has been able to get away with this. Except for a small number of members from both houses, Congress has either been completely indifferent to the catastrophe our government has helped create or they have been openly supportive of the Saudis and their allies. Obama has occasionally come under criticism in major papers for his indefensible support for the war on Yemen, but because there is no danger that Congress might oppose him he has easily dismissed that criticism.
Obama’s legacy is continuing U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, and he bequeaths to his successor the ability to start, escalate, and join wars at will without Congressional authorization.