While many Americans watched last week’s State of the Union address, its possible President Obama’s mind was somewhere else. Specifically, halfway across the globe in Somalia, where concurrent to his speech, a hostage rescue mission was carried out by Navy SEALs. The raid, which brought an American and Danish citizen to safety, is yet another example of Obama’s principled leadership as Commander-in-Chief.
When he was elected four years ago, many were concerned with Obama’s lack of international experience. In the ensuing years, he has become the best example of an international president in at least a decade. In particular, his military policy has distinguished him as a careful, informed and prudent Commander-in-Chief, adjectives that haven’t been associated with our military leadership in quite some time.
What we see today is the calculated return towards non-interventionism, a mainstay of American policy, particularly following periods of expansion and imperialism, which many have argued the invasion of Iraq represents. When elected, one of Obama’s most significant promises was to withdraw our troops from Iraq, a claim that he has recently delivered upon. Treating this reduction as the basis of military policy, Obama has worked continually to reform the American military to be able to combat our enemies abroad but has done so primarily by acting as a diplomat first, then military commander second. As was pointed out in this paper last week, Obama’s stance on Iran involves cautious sanctions against Iran. It is in stark contrast to the current Republican candidates, who support actions all the way from assassinating Iranian scientists to full military action (Paul, it might be noted, is at the other end of the spectrum, essentially espousing a “do nothing” plan).
At the beginning of the 21st century, the American military was the strongest conventional military in the world, resulting in the quick dismantling of the Iraqi government after the invasion. However, our enemy is no longer conventional, requiring a shift in mission and vision that has slowly developed over the past ten years, culminating in the SEAL team strike that killed bin Laden. In this and other strikes, like the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from his cargo boat while pirates held him captive, Obama has proven himself to be a careful purveyor of American strength abroad. Instead of full-scale action, we are finally seeing the success of thorough information collecting followed by selected action.
The United States’ role in Libya also demonstrated the president’s careful hand abroad. While events in Egypt left Americans in a do-nothing situation, Libya provided a different set of options. Instead of engaging in the nigh-impossible export of democracy trademarked by the White House’s previous occupant, Obama was careful to listen to the desires of the Libyan people and the global community. No longer would the United States charge headlong into the fray; this time around, military action by the U.S. was limited and in strict accordance with the wishes of the Libyan revolutionaries, and the American role in the conflict was abbreviated, letting other countries step in to do the heavy lifting. While American actions aided in the toppling of Gadhafi, the president avoided full-scale long-term action to prevent undue American involvement resulting the untold cost of lives and dollars.
If we are to be able to focus on rebuilding our economy and livelihoods at home, we must be secure within our borders. Obama has been able to protect American interests both at home and abroad without excessive cost or an undue show of strength. While many have stood opposed to President Obama’s military policy, his actions represent the first modern Commander-in-Chief.