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Barack Obama is well on his way to being a historically great foreign policy president. In fact, he may well already be one. Assuming there is no radical reversal in Libya, Obama will have demonstrated exactly how the U.S. should go about assisting an indigenous uprising seeking to overthrow a monstrous dictator. Exactly how. To the letter.

The U.S. has, over the past century-plus, overthrown dictators and overthrown some non-dictators, although this is not the place to go over our mistakes. We've also watched as dictators we wanted overthrown thumbed our noses at us for decades, including the one in Tripoli, the murderer behind Lockerbie.

Here, Obama saw a crisis and an opening, and provided the crucial assistance that allowed the Libyan people to overthrow Qaddafi. From the perspective of the Libyans, we cannot overstate the importance of this event. The loss of life among Libyans and overall was, as it always is, tragic, although these deaths will hopefully lead to a better future for that country. From the U.S. perspective, to have done what Obama did without the loss of a single soldier under his command is an unprecedented success. Clearly, our support for the Libyan people in their fight against Qaddafi will also improve our standing throughout the Arab world.

The comparison, of course, is between Obama's approach to Libya and George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Bush lied to the American people about the nature of Iraq's ability to threaten us with weapons of mass destruction, ordered a full-scale invasion which led to an occupation going on ten years that has cost thousands of American lives and those of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, not to mention trillions of dollars. Obama pursued a more modest yet ultimately far more effective strategy. The difference in results couldn't be more stark.

And, oh yeah, Obama got Bin Laden. That didn't just occur on his watch. Obama got Bin Laden. The President ordered a shift in U.S. foreign policy priorities. He put getting Bin Laden at the top of our list, whereas Bush had said that getting Bin Laden was "not a top priority use of American resources." President Obama also ordered the actual attack to be carried out even though there was a decent chance it might fail and embarrass him politically.

In more blunt terms, President Obama has avenged the two biggest terrorist attacks against Americans by foreign forces in the past 25 years: Lockerbie and 9/11, neither of which occurred on his watch. He's taken care of the unfinished business of the two iconic conservative presidents of the past generation: Reagan and G.W. Bush. Think about that. Some of you might not want to think about American foreign policy in those terms. But the American people do, and those kinds of emotions are part of how American presidents are judged.

More broadly, Obama has redefined how to use American power. Like he said way back in 2002:

I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.

Neither the U.S. nor the world can afford an American president who opposes all wars. Like it or not, the U.S. remains the most powerful country in the world. The idea that the U.S. should literally never use force is a dangerous one. Other countries will fill the vacuum, and that is not good from the perspective of the American people's interests or the causes of democracy and pluralism that we have--overall--done more to support than any other country on the planet (and no, I won't be debating that point here).

Barack Obama has shown that American force can be deployed effectively to achieve high priorities, like the assassination of Bin Laden and the takedown of Qaddafi. He has deployed the minimum force necessary to do the job, rather than the maximum force possible, regardless of the cost. He has not used force as a "show of force" (something the neo-cons talked openly of regarding the Iraq invasion) but rather to accomplish goals.

There remains much more to accomplish. Obama needs to successfully conclude the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These will not be easy tasks. He also needs to figure out how to successfully manage our relationship with Pakistan. Not an easy task. George W. Bush left him plenty to clean up.

However, if anyone had told you in 2008 that Barack Obama, in his first term, would have taken out Bin Laden and provided crucial assistance in the overthrow of Qaddafi--without putting a single American soldier on the ground in Libya--you'd have been pretty impressed, to say the least.

In conclusion, Barack Obama is well on his way to being a historically great foreign policy president. In fact, he may well already be one.

UPDATE: PS-Thanks for republishing!

Originally posted to Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by The Yes We Can Pragmatists and Progressive Messaging.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (36+ / 0-)

    My forthcoming book (as yet untitled) on Barack Obama and American national identity will be published in Summer/Fall 2012 by Potomac Books. Look for it online and in bookstores.

    by Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:00:15 AM PDT

  •  While I too am ecstatic (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz, lgmcp, ThisIsMyTime, Lujane

    the Libyan regime has fallen and I'm proud of the role the US has played in the fall, I can't go along with your greatness idea.

    Obama had every opportunity to conduct this military operation within the bounds of the Constitution and chose not to.  Outcomes are great, but process is incredibly important.

    I elected a president who I believed would make it less possible for a future George W. Bush to lead our country into a senseless war.  Instead, by undermining Congress's constitutional power to declare war, the president has made it more possible.

    Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
    ¡Boycott Arizona!

    by litho on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:14:57 AM PDT

    •  I respect what you've said here (6+ / 0-)

      However, something can be imperfect and still be great. And, however Obama handled Libya and Congress, no future president would have been constrained in his/her actions. Unfortunately.

      My forthcoming book (as yet untitled) on Barack Obama and American national identity will be published in Summer/Fall 2012 by Potomac Books. Look for it online and in bookstores.

      by Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:26:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Obama couldn't go to Congress (6+ / 0-)

        Obama would not have received a positive vote for the Libya campaign from Congress, given the Republican intransigence and hostage-taking.  This would have been an international embarrassment for the United States and would have emboldened Gadaffi.  So Obama chose the harder path and carried on in Libya without asking Congress to endorse it.
        Someday, there will be stories written about the courage of Obama in risking impeachment again and again, just so that he could do the right thing -- if Libya had been a failure, if the Bin Laden raid had not worked, if the military had rejected the DADT repeal, if the American people had been upset about not defending DOMA, and now if the immigration amnesty backfires . . .

        Do not go gentle into that good night. Blog, blog against the dying of the light. CathiefromCanada

        by CathiefromCanada on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 10:21:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  From what I've read so far (10+ / 0-)

      I'm not convinced at all that Obama acted in a manner contrary to the US Constitution. However, being a citizen of the world, I am satisfied that he acted within the framework of international law.

      •  I'm not convinced by the international law (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ian Reifowitz, lgmcp

        argument, either.  NATO's mandate was very clear in the use of military force to protect civilians in imminent danger.  They needed legal chicanery to interpret that mandate to mean offensive strikes in support of a local force bent on regime change.

        Don't get me wrong.  I fully support the Revolution.  I'm just not thrilled at the way legalities that could have been followed were not.

        In theory, this Revolution about the instilling the rule of law in Libya.  You don't achieve that by breaking laws along the way.

        Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.  Or something like that...

        Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
        ¡Boycott Arizona!

        by litho on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:48:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is part of the UNO to 'fight for peace'. (5+ / 0-)

          The US - and NATO - did not fight for themselves. They fought within a NATO mandate. The resolution was deliberately vague - and in fact, what strikes me is that NATO did very little to exploit that vagueness.
          For instance, the resolution stipulates that there should be no ground occupation. NATO interpreted this rather strictly as no fighting troops on the ground. I really do not see that   the US or NATO abused the mandate. I would rather say that the mandate allowed for some wriggle room for Russia or China, so that they could let the resolution pass and later grumble that NATO had gone beyond the mandate. But of course  the grumbling was merely for internal use.

        •  That "breaking the laws" you speak of ? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ian Reifowitz, Larsstephens

          It is still being debated even amongst legal luminaries, isn't it ? So how do you claim so confidently ?

          Just curious.

          One bitter fact is two bit hacks populate the third rate fourth estate who are truly the fifth columnists. So, how did Obama piss you off today ?
          Call the media when they Lie

          by amk for obama on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 05:47:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Way too soon to know. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    And there still is Afghanistan.

    The American people must wise up and rise up!

    by TomP on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:15:44 AM PDT

  •  I'm still surprised... (6+ / 0-)

    By this latest turn of events in Libya. It seems like this last Iraq War experience, along with the sluggish economy, has led us into "war fatigue" where we're questioning any and all military involvement abroad. That Obama succeeded in catching Osama, then managed to finally do what others didn't think possible in taking down Qaddafi, is a testament to his ability to better navigate through these foreign policy crises.

    •  Agreed. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      atdnext, TomP, princesspat, Larsstephens

      "Navigate" is a good word there.

      My forthcoming book (as yet untitled) on Barack Obama and American national identity will be published in Summer/Fall 2012 by Potomac Books. Look for it online and in bookstores.

      by Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:21:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree with that take. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lgmcp, Ian Reifowitz, princesspat

        Liberal interventionism is a very dangerous thing.  I did not oppose the Libyan intervention, although I did have doubts, and over time it worked, but it might not have.  And it can lead to huge problems.  Iraq, while unilateral, was picthed as liberla interventionism.  Indeed, most imperilaistic ventures in the 19th and 20th century were done as that.

        This one appears to have turned out all right, and I agree somewhat with President Obama's choice to intevene for humanitarian reasons, and his coalition with France and the UK.  But there are real limits of this sort of policy.  See, e.g. Syria.  I'm hope this does not embolden people to go further.  I believe President Obama understands that.

        Maybe it's my personality.  I'd say President Obaam's foreign policy has been good overall, but Afganistan's a problem and it's so ealry to describe it as "greatness."

        Truman looked terrible at times to contemporaies, but 50 years plus later, his containment policies look much better.

        When we overthrewe Mosedegh in Iran in the early 50,  it looked good to contempories, but it laid the seeds for Khomeni.

        On this, I'd say Presdient Obama took a claculated risk for humitarian reasons and it appears to have suceeded.  I'm glad and I'd say "good."

        I think "navigate" is a better word.  

           

        The American people must wise up and rise up!

        by TomP on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:29:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Again, Tom, I'm with you on those details (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TomP

          Maybe we're seeing the same glass of water but assessing it differently due to our "personality" differences. I can be a glass half-full kinda guy.

          My forthcoming book (as yet untitled) on Barack Obama and American national identity will be published in Summer/Fall 2012 by Potomac Books. Look for it online and in bookstores.

          by Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:40:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Looking at some of the recent diaries... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ian Reifowitz, Larsstephens

        And comments here, it still seems like this is too hard to believe for many Americans.  But if this, "The Arab Spring", and the removal of bin Laden really lead to a more peaceful and democratic Middle East, that will solve a host of problems (from high gas prices to terrorist threats) stemming from our past schizophrenic foreign policy.

  •  I'm all in favor (8+ / 0-)

    of precise, targeted police actions  or  cautious, indirect coalition actions, as opposed to pointless ground wars.  

    Obama's personal committment to prudence and pragmatism over ideology and ideals, while often infuriating on the domestic front, is all to the good in foreign policy.

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 07:21:10 AM PDT

  •  Can Dems use this? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz, Larsstephens

    When the super Hawks start saying Obama is weak will the Dems fight back hard?I doubt it.

  •  Foreign policy has not changed. (0+ / 0-)

    The policy of aggressive dominance has not changed at all.  In fact, one can say there is no foreign policy  but only an evolving military policy on how dominance is to  be achieved--which is what you list.  Changing the weapons and tactics you use on people is not foreign policy.

    •  Please explain (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jeff Simpson, Larsstephens

      How is what the U.S. did in Libya an example of aggressive dominance? I'm more than willing to hear you, please make an argument with specifics.

      My forthcoming book (as yet untitled) on Barack Obama and American national identity will be published in Summer/Fall 2012 by Potomac Books. Look for it online and in bookstores.

      by Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 08:38:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Start here. (0+ / 0-)

        Of course, your question assumes that the expansion of dominance is okay if we have "good reasons"

        Here are the reasons...I am not going to look it up, but appears the Europeans were worried about their oil supply from the crazy guy, and this could also be the US supporting their allies as they smash opposition.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

        Yet even before armed conflict drove the U.S. companies out of Libya this year, their relations with Gaddafi had soured. The Libyan leader demanded tough contract terms. He sought big bonus payments up front. Moreover, upset that he was not getting more U.S. government respect and recognition for his earlier concessions, he pressured the oil companies to influence U.S. policies.

        In late February 2008, Mulva was “summoned to Sirte for a half-hour ‘browbeating’ ” from Gaddafi, according to a U.S. State Department cable made available by WikiLeaks. Gaddafi “threatened to dramatically reduce Libya’s oil production and/or expel . . . U.S. oil and gas companies,” the cable saiD

        http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/...

        One State Department cable from November 2007 (Wikileaks reference ID 07TRIPOLI967) sounds the alarm of “growing evidence of Libyan resource nationalism” by the Gaddafi government. This was almost identical language employed by the U.S. and British governments against Iranian Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh when he nationalized Iran’s oil field in 1951. Mossadegh was overthrown by a 1953 CIA coup that restored the Shah to the throne. It allowed U.S. and British oil companies to re-take ownership over Iran’s oil until the 1979 revolution.

        •  Sorry, I'm not convinced (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jeff Simpson, Larsstephens

          Providing air support to rebels whom ultimately we don't control was not an act of aggressive dominance, unless you are defining these words in a way with which I'm not familiar.

          My forthcoming book (as yet untitled) on Barack Obama and American national identity will be published in Summer/Fall 2012 by Potomac Books. Look for it online and in bookstores.

          by Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 09:48:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Cutting it too fine. (3+ / 0-)

      That nations act in their own best interest (construed for centuries if not millenia as military and econonic hegemony) is TOO broad to classify as "foreign policy".  

      The choice of weapons, tactics, and methods is exactly the choice that is to be made.  And if that changes, it is perfectly normal and correct to say that foreign policy -- the set of policies used to achieve the universal goal -- has changed.

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 08:40:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The real question will come with Syria and I/P (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz, Larsstephens

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 08:53:20 AM PDT

  •  Thank you Ian. This is excellent analysis. (4+ / 0-)

    I have no doubt that he will be remembered as one of the best presidents in our nation's history.

    ...We have many more issues that bind us together than separate us!

    by ThisIsMyTime on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 09:03:57 AM PDT

  •  Thank you Ian - and am looking forward (3+ / 0-)

    to your book.

    "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 10:25:21 AM PDT

    •  Hi Denise-and thanks to you too! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens

      Let's talk soon.

      My forthcoming book (as yet untitled) on Barack Obama and American national identity will be published in Summer/Fall 2012 by Potomac Books. Look for it online and in bookstores.

      by Ian Reifowitz on Mon Aug 22, 2011 at 06:21:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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