Whatever comes of Obama’s confrontation with Assad, an even more dangerous confrontation lies in wait–the one with Iran. If another round of negotiations with Tehran should fail, Obama may soon be obliged to make good on his vow to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. “I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests,” Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March 2012.
But to his critics, Obama does hesitate, and trouble follows as a result. With more than three years left in his presidency, he has the opportunity to reverse that impression. Success in Syria and then Iran could vindicate him, and failure could be crushing. “The risk is that, if things in the Middle East continue to spiral, that will become his legacy,” says Brian Katulis, a former Obama campaign adviser now with the Center for American Progress.
Obama does “hesitate to use force”–is that his problem? Since 2009, US drone strikes have killed more than 2000 people in Pakistan, including 240 civilians, 62 of them children. Since Obama took office, they’ve killed more than 400 in Yemen; drone deaths in Somalia are harder to quantify.
Obama roughly tripled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, from 33,000 to 98,000 (Think Progress, 6/22/11). In 2011, he sent naval and air forces into battle to overthrow the government of Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi. In Iraq, Obama tried and failed to keep tens of thousands of troops in the country beyond the withdrawal deadline negotiated by the Bush administration (New York Times, 10/22/11).
This is a record that would not seem to indicate a particular hesitancy to use force. Oddly, Crowley acknowledges much of this: “Obama …sent more troops to Afghanistan, escalated drone strikes against Al-Qaeda terrorists,” he writes. But his military actions are presented as a sign of his unwillingness to take military action: “In Libya, he at first stood by as rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi’s forces found themselves outgunned and on the run.”
No matter how many wars you engage in–Obama has had six so far–there are always wars you could have started but didn’t. Crowley seems to be suggesting that those unfought wars ought to take the blame for any problems Obama leaves behind.