By Daniel Larison
January 16, 2017
The American Conservative
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.