Sunday, January 27, 2013

President Obama Discusses "Limitations" of U.S. Military

    The New Republic recently published an interview with President Obama under the title: "Barack Obama is Not Pleased - The president on his enemies, the media, and the future of football."  However, the president's response to the final interview question may contain the most significant glimpse into his thinking on a topic more significant than football, the media, or his political enemies.  One of the interviewers, Chris Hughes, asked the president: "The last question is about Syria. I wonder if you can speak about how you personally, morally, wrestle with the ongoing violence there."  Here in part is his response:
And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations. In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?”
    While I would not contend that the situation in Syria (or the Congo or Afghanistan or Libya or Iraq, for that matter) is an easy call, one of the questions the president asks himself in regard to the American military's "limitations" has some disturbing implications: "How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan?" As recently as 2008, the US had more than 185,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, troop levels in Iraq are only a few thousand and the number in Afghanistan is around 68,000.  Has our military been weakened so much in the past five years that the president must consider if an intervention in Syria would degrade efforts to support troops in Afghanistan?

    In 2010, the Obama adminstration's Quadrennial Defense Review report stated:
In the mid- to long term, U.S. military forces must plan and prepare to prevail in a broad range of operations that may occur in multiple theaters in overlapping time frames. This includes maintaining the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors.
    Technically, the war in Afghanistan is not even against a "nation-state aggressor," but against the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies; still a formidable foe, but not a foe with the backing of an organized national government with all the resources that come with it.  What does it communicate to Iran or North Korea if the president is publicly airing concerns about our military's "limitations" as we (as he often characterizes it) "wind down" the war in Afghanistan, the only significant conflict in which the United States is currently involved?

    The rest of the interview makes it clear that the president is not reticent about projecting a position of strength to overcome his domestic political enemies.  His closing words about the flexibility and readiness of the U.S. military project a rather less confident posture to our enemies abroad.

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