One predecessor his advisers cite is Dwight Eisenhower, who ended the Korean War in his first term and mostly shunned military action in his second. "The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at home, of conserving American power," a senior national security adviser told The New York Times.
Conservation of power makes a lot of sense after that decade of war, whose costs run into the trillions of dollars, not to mention more than 6,600 American lives. Obama has also come to appreciate the limits of U.S might.
When urged to intervene in Syria, according to a disapproving report in The Economist magazine, the president's "response is to ask for evidence that such interventions would make things better, rather than satisfy the urge to 'do something' at the risk of escalating the conflict. His second response is to ask for the price tag." Questions like those usually yield sobering answers.
It may turn out that Obama's real change is not in refusing to use military power but in using a different means -- namely, drones. Connoisseurs of irony noted that just hours before he proclaimed the end of our wars, U.S. missiles hit al-Qaida targets in Yemen. But the use of drones falls well short of traditional wars in cost, risk, bloodshed and ease of extrication.
The bigger danger is that he will launch a preemptive strike against Iran, which could lead to a wider war with unpredictable consequences. And though hawks doubt him, he is committed to doing just that if Iran proceeds toward building nuclear weapons.
Obama will deserve credit if he ends the U.S. war in Afghanistan as he did the U.S. war in Iraq. But it's just as important to avoid plunging into another one, and on that prospect, optimism is unwarranted. Addiction to war is like addiction to anything else: The addict always wants more.
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