Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Limits of War

President Obama came into office believing that most of the unsolved problems in the world had been
caused, or at least exasperated, by his predecessor’s unilateralism and swagger. He was not alone. It was the shared belief of the liberal foreign policy establishment.

A hand to Iran, a reset for Russia, a speech in Cairo would signal the end of American exceptionalism and begin the Obama era.

He won an early peace prize, affirming the wisdom of the new sensibility.

We are now debating the correctness of that analysis and the effectiveness of the President’s foreign policy as he nears the end of his term and is embroiled in unrelenting conflicts from aggressive single-minded adversaries.

But regardless of the controversies of his more modulated approach (leading from behind), it fits the facts on the ground. The American people are exhausted by the burden from the “War on Terror.” Notice that the unrelenting criticism of the President from the right does not offer a military solution, only military gestures and rhetoric.

One of the inextricable laws of American foreign policy is that the public likes its wars short and cheap. The eight-year war in Iraq, and now 13-year conflict in Afghanistan with more than 6,000 American casualties and billions in cost, has been too much. Both wars are now seen as not worth it.

Obama believed his mission was to end them. Unfortunately, like many of our foreign interventions, they do not appear to be ending well. Obama shares blame for that, but he didn’t start them, and there is no doubt they had to end.

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