Obama as ‘Peace President’

Many of President Obama’s critics on the Left slam him for not doing more to reverse President George W. Bush’s war policies, but ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar says the criticism misses the significance of Obama’s resistance to Bush’s moniker, “war president.”

By Paul R. Pillar

The extent to which the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Barack Obama has used military force has been the subject of much comment. The actions that elicit such comment are easy to see, from a surge of troops in Afghanistan to the extensive and widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles to kill suspected terrorists.

But the actions disguise the dominant inclinations of Obama. Unlike his predecessor, he has never wanted to be a “war president.” He has resisted the militarization of American policy.

President Barack Obama saluting coffins of dead U.S. soldiers returned from Afghanistan to Dover Air Force Base. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

The best indication of this is his clear opposition to a provision in a defense-authorization act passed late last year mandating that foreigners suspected of being al-Qaeda members be put in military custody rather than being subjected to the civilian criminal justice system.

The president sharply criticized the provision in a signing statement, indicating that he would interpret a waiver provision in the law to preserve maximum flexibility. This past week he did exactly that, issuing a waiver and associated guidelines effectively to undo as much of the objectionable legislation as is in his power to undo. [For a contrasting view from another ex-CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Betrayal of the Founders.”]

Insofar as the administration has seemed to head for a military path, it has been responding to several unavoidable pressures and circumstances. One is the legacy of a couple of ongoing wars that it inherited. Another is the traditional Democratic concern about not appearing to be wimpy on matters of national security.

The largest factor, however, is a pervasive contemporary American habit of thinking about almost anything involving a foreign challenge or security threat in warlike terms, which in turn leads to thinking about military means as the most appropriate tool for dealing with the problem.

In analyzing the considerable continuity between the latter part of the Bush administration and the Obama administration in counterterrorist policy and practices, Marc Lynch has noted how the “media and political class” have “deeply internalized Global War on Terror framing” even though the war-on-terror terminology is no longer in official vogue. That framing severely restricts what any administration can do, even if no one is trying to score a political point or gain an electoral advantage.

The legislation about mandatory military custody for certain terrorism suspects demonstrates how much we are dealing with an attitudinal habit rather than careful consideration about what makes for effective policy. Although supporters of the legislation may have thought of themselves as being tough guys on terrorism, the effect of the law was to reduce the tools and options available in dealing with suspected terrorists.

President Obama is right to use waivers aggressively to resist this aimless bit of machismo.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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8 comments on “Obama as ‘Peace President’

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    When the only tool in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I remember watching the video of Ray McGovern getting thrown out of La Clinton’s audience, and that little episode has forever crystallized my opinion of our current foreign policy flexibility. Nothing is more conducive to paranoia than actually having something to hide. In addition to a hammer, our nails appear to have heads on both ends. You can pound them in, but the results are a disaster. Just look at how well everything turned out in Libya. Now, they want to do the same thing to Syria and perhaps Iran as well. Here’s hoping he continues to resist.

  2. What unforgivable claptrap. “the dominant inclinations of Obama.” – how the hell would anyone know, and why would we care? His ACTIONS have greatly extended the wars, and only reluctantly followed Bush’s own schedule in withdrawing from Iraq.

    Warmonger is as warmonger does. Who cares what his “dominant inclinations” are?

  3. rosemerry on said:

    Obama does exactly as he likes, pretending he is forced. He moves right to attract the Repugs, making them go even more extreme. Normal people are not catered for at all.
    He could tell Netanyahu “Attack Iran and you are on your own” and mean it. He could try to introduce any decent law, but he does not do so. He could stop pandering to bankers, who have too much, and to Zionists/AIPAC, as they hate him anyway. Grow a spine, Obomber. Cruelty is not strength.

  4. Ib Heinisch on said:

    Repulsive progressive hypocrisy.
    Gleen Greenwald has a succinctly description of Obama’s policies in his article:
    “Repulsive liberal hypocrisy extends far beyond the issue of Guantanamo. A core plank in the Democratic critique of the Bush/Cheney civil liberties assault was the notion that the President could do whatever he wants, in secret and with no checks, to anyone he accuses without trial of being a Terrorist – even including eavesdropping on their communications or detaining them without due process. But President Obama has not only done the same thing, but has gone much farther than mere eavesdropping or detention”
    http://www.salon.com/writer/glenn_greenwald/page/4/

  5. This article is absolute garbage. Usually I make an effort to substantiate my claims, but I’m not going to waste any more time than to say, politician’s words are used as a way to create a SCREEN for short and longterm intentions, the NDAA codifies indefinite detention of US citizens, and the president is not a victim. Ron Paul has been completely marginalized for taking the moral high ground on Iran, but that doesn’t keep him from using what little platform he is given to actually take a more genuinely peaceful approach. How could this story have even been published in an “alternative” outlet?

  6. elmerfudzie on said:

    The problem of Mr. Obama stems from something that is long term and systemic in our government. Our “newfangled” current methods of aggression took root long ago as summarized in Harold Pinter’s Nobel prize lecture. His was a true peace prize, awarded to him in the 2005 literature category. Pinter outlines our governments various CIA sponsored juntas especially in South America. Harold Pinter stands out as one of the the best playwright and screenwriters of recent times. Have a look and (listen) at nobelprize.org. Secondly, by the sin of omission, Obama refused to re-examine the root causes of this legacy that his presidency inherited. Obama failed to order another 911 commission investigation, especially in light of the widely known fact that the report was unquestionably another Warren Report. I include in this re-examination the circumstances of the Senator Paul Wellstone (and family) murders. Wellstone bucked Dick Cheney and was against the Iraq war, so down his plane went. As a nation, we are bankrupt in more than just one way.

  7. Frances in California on said:

    Who on this forum is so naive as not to know the Pentagon runs the USA?