“Gentlemen, I want you to know that I am seriously considering an attempt to rescue the hostages.”
According to media reports, President Obama had three options once American intelligence uncovered Osama bin Laden’s suspected location.
The first option was to bomb the position with thirty-two 2,000-pound bombs using a B-2 stealth bomber. Option two was to assault the position with a joint American-Pakistani raid. The final option was to conduct a heliborne assault of the compound before notifying the Pakistanis.
All the options had risks, but the one that President Obama executed was by far the riskiest. Not only did U.S. forces face the prospect of being stranded deep inside Pakistan, but they also faced threats from a Pakistani military on a hair-trigger alert from possible Indian military incursions from the East.
The outcome could just as easily have turned sour.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter, tried a similar operation in Iran to rescue 52 American hostages.
If President Obama’s Operation Geronimo exceeded all expectations, President Carter’s Desert One was a disaster and likely a major contributor to his losing the 1980 presidential election.
The mission ended as a debacle deep inside Iranian territory. The military lost eight men, seven helicopters, and a C-130 aircraft without even making contact with the Iranians.
Like President Carter before him, President Obama essentially gambled his presidency on this mission.
The success of this operation will do much to help the American public the naiveté that underlined President Obama’s foreign policy in his first two years, and is likely one of his greatest military achievements. Another accomplishment might have been his decision to use a cyber-weapon, which was likely developed during the last years of the Bush Administration, against Iran’s nuclear program.
The United States government is unlikely to disclose whether it was responsible for infecting Iranian nuclear systems with the highly sophisticated Stuxnet virus. However, if the United States was, Obama deserves credit for deciding to employ the cyber weapon.
For what it is worth, President Obama made a gutsy decision that may turn out to be the high water mark of his presidency.
One reason I thought Obama would be a much better foreign policy choice than John McCain is that McCain is very impulsive. Obama strikes me as one who will take his time, and then stick with a decision once he’s determined it’s the right one. He’s also quietly remaking the entire focus of foreign policy by shifting us away from a Eurocentric view to much more emphasis on Asia and the Mideast. This shift is clear to the Europeans, even if it isn’t talked about much here. By moving Panetta to Defense and Petraeus to CIA he’s signally a clear shift in thinking about military matters to one more focused on linking intelligence and military action. Since the 21st century may be less about major warfare and more about smaller operations (perhaps with smaller budgets), this makes sense too.
So far I’ve been impressed with Obama’s foreign policy, primarily because he listens to his advisers, and chose them well: Gates, Petraeus, Clinton and Panetta bring a lot of experience to the table. New Presidents always have a learning curve, and President Bush made the mistake of believing spreading democracy would be easy (though to his credit he shifted his policy and changed who he listened to when that didn’t work out). At least on foreign policy grounds, Obama is doing very well. His troubles are focused more on the budget and the economy.
Believe it or not, this move started with George Bush, Jr. (and perhaps even Clinton, though nothing currently comes to mind while I am typing). One key aspect of this policy was the Strategic Agreement with India over nuclear power circa 2005. However, I agree that Obama continues to push in this direction. It is only logical. Bush, and now Obama, also are correctly positioning US power to serve as an counterweight to increasing Chinese influence in Africa, which will likely be the next major area of strategic and economic competition given its resource wealth.
Or that it was in America’s vital interests to spread democracy to the Middle East at all…
I agree that Obama has been very good at chosing his advisers (with the exception of his National Security Advisor, who has no business being in the position whatsoever). However, I think the foreign policy of his first two years was a train wreck. I think his instincts were probably right on Afghanistan (keep troops low, but favor using UAVs against terrorists), but he caved into his generals and Republicans and did a surge in an area that did not support this tactic geographically. Second, he got involved in Libya, which makes no logical sense. Lastly, he alienated US allies, while openly courting America’s enemies (which yielded nothing but anger from allies and contempt from our enemies).
That said, I think he is distinctly turning things around, beginning with what I believe was his decision to use a cyber weapon against Iran (this has never been confirmed, and the attack could have been orchestrated by the Israelis) and taking us to today with his ballsy decision to bet his presidency on taking out bin Laden.
So now I would say he is at a net neutral. If he is able to extricate himself from Libya with grace, I will turn positive. BTW, I would rate GW Bush a neutral as well.
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