Obama took note of the Iraq disaster in addressing Libya, where liberal as well as conservative hawks urged him to use force against dictator Moammar Gadhafi. His defense secretary publicly questioned the option, and Obama drew criticism for his reluctance to intervene.
When he finally did, it was on novel terms: He insisted that our allies take the lead, kept our role to a minimum, avoided U.S. casualties and wrapped it up before the commercial break.
Crucial to that approach was his refusal to deploy ground troops or assume the slightest responsibility for what happened next in Libya. He's been even warier in Syria: To be persuaded to use air power, Obama would need an implement measuring at least 11 feet, since he wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole.
All this reflects a sharp shift in popular sentiment. Summarizing the results of a poll it sponsored last year, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported that "with a strong sense that the wars have overstretched our military and strained our economic resources, (Americans) prefer to avoid the use of military force if at all possible."
There is one notable exception: Iran. Obama has vowed to do whatever it takes to prevent the mullahs from getting nuclear weapons, and most Americans favor military action if Iran doesn't give up that quest.
The key here is that everyone figures we can do the job from the safety of the skies. If it called for large numbers of boots on the ground, we'd resign ourselves to Iranian nukes -- which we may anyway.
That's a symptom of how we've changed since Cheney and Co. were in office. In a new documentary, he affirms, in a reference that includes Iraq, "If I had to do it over again, I'd do it in a minute." The rest of us? Not a chance.