The Big Stick and Its Growth Under President Obama

President Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far,” a proverb that would echo in the annals and come to be associated with his unabashed interventionist foreign policy. American foreign policy according to Roosevelt’s worldview should use American power for good throughout the world. As a libertarian, I ideologically disagree with this blanket support of military action, but I admire the consistency of Roosevelt’s character and positions despite the mounting political pressures.

In 2008, a host of Americans expected a president with similar political steadfastness who would turn the ship 180 degrees from President George W. Bush’s dark legacies. It is safe to say some three years later that that ship has barely turned 10 degrees under the captaincy of President Obama. Indeed, America’s foreign policy has been surprisingly neoconservative since his inauguration.
Let’s quickly look at the key facts:
1.        On the campaign trail, Candidate Obama unequivocally promised that he would “close down the detention facility at Guantanamo.” In one of his first acts of office, he intended to return America to the “moral high ground” in the war on terrorism by signing an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay in a year and end the previous administration’s controversial torture and detention practices. The detention facility remains open and operational to this day.
2.        Branching off of that, he continues to support President Bush’s Military Commissions Act, allowing the United States to circumvent the Geneva Conventions and international justice standards, despite his initial promise to scrap it altogether.
3.        President Obama has belied his generally receptive approach from a year ago in 2010, when he was hopeful for “an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” Several weeks ago, President Obama flatly said he would veto any such resolution out of fear of its impact on the Middle East peace process – a rapid change of heart.
4.        On Iraq, the President was warmly received by progressives desirous of withdrawing from Vietnam-esque Iraq, and sure, he might have messed up the earlier intended timeframes, but the end-of-the year deadline means he followed through, right? Wrong. As Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt astutely observes, the U.S. may technically violate its original troop withdrawal targets, the bulk of concern lies in the hundreds of C.I.A. personnel and thousands of paramilitary security contractors lying about. We certainly are not fooling the anti-American Sadrists.
5.        I would mention the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, but that was actually one of his promises, which I dutifully note. Instead, I will point to the “conflicts” or engagements (covertly and openly) initiated in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Libya.
6.        Most recently, President Obama directed an unprecedented assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by predator drone without due process. This offends Candidate Obama’s reasoning that he wanted to show the world that America would follow its founding tenets. Al-Awlaki may have been one evil S.O.B., and I know he will not be missed by many, but what example do we set if we break with over 200 years of American history and have leaders with the authority to murder American citizens without the opportunity to plead their case for their acts? This creates a new precedent of unparalleled executive authority.
These are the main offenses that come to mind when I think of American foreign policy over the past several years. I do not need to tell you that the realities of office tend to change the president’s actual executive policies, but the policies we are all witness to today are not a few minor adjustments here and there – they are a wholesale reversion to interventionism in the Middle East.
Photo Credit: Mirror News UK

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