Home/Daniel Larison/The Deranged Belief That Obama Is ‘Allergic’ to Using Force

The Deranged Belief That Obama Is ‘Allergic’ to Using Force

William Galston’s review of Obama’s foreign policy is as detached from reality as it is negative:

His allergy to the use, or even the threat, of force [bold mine-DL] has rendered U.S. diplomacy all but toothless. We have conducted an eight-year experiment in foreign policy with almost no sticks and very few carrots.

This is a bizarre and wildly misleading distortion of Obama’s record. Contrary to the conventional view, Obama has not been averse to using or threatening to use force. He pretends to be reluctant to resort to force, and his domestic critics pretend to believe him, but he will leave office with the dubious distinction of having presided over eight uninterrupted years of war. He has continued wars that he inherited, he has started new ones during both terms, and he has lent U.S. support to the wars of clients that couldn’t have been fought without our backing. The idea that Obama is allergic to using force stems from exactly one episode–the infamous “red line” business in 2013–and otherwise has no real evidence to back it up.

Note that I’m not saying any of this in defense of what Obama has done. In every case that Obama has opted to escalate or launch a war, he has been wrong, and the countries affected by his decisions and the U.S. are all worse off for it. Remarkably, Obama’s decisions to use force are rarely put under much scrutiny and provoke little or no resistance. The decision that most infuriates and disillusions so many pundits and analysts was the decision not to bomb another country without authorization. Obama can enable war crimes and create near-famine conditions in Yemen with uncritical backing for the Saudis, start two wars without Congressional debate or approval, and send U.S. soldiers into combat while pretending not to, but the conventional view is that Obama doesn’t rely on military options enough. The only thing that more clearly shows how over-militarized our foreign policy is than Obama’s own record of unending warfare is the sick and widespread belief that Obama isn’t eager enough to use force overseas. Insofar as that belief shapes the way Obama’s foreign policy is remembered and understood in the years to come, it will make it more likely that future administrations will be even more addicted to using the military in response to new crises and conflicts.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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