March 18, 2013

Iraq a Testament to Barack Obama Leadership

Featuring Michèle Flournoy

Source: Politico

Monday marks the nine-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama opposed this war back in 2002, when he was an Illinois state senator, and he worked to bring it to a dignified end as president.During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama promised to be “as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.” That is just what he did.

He didn’t rush to the exits — as many critics feared. Instead, he took counsel from both his military commanders and a strong bipartisan national security team, crafting a responsible plan to leave Iraq in the hands of its people.Today, Iraq remains a highly imperfect place with considerable challenges. But when U.S. troops departed in December, they knew the Iraqi people had a real opportunity to build a better future.

The Iraq episode says a great deal about Obama’s approach to national security: He is committed to charting a strategic, pragmatic course that safeguards American interests and values.Obama has remained focused on long-term U.S. interests, even in the face of one near-term world crisis after another. As a result, the U.S. is stronger, safer and more respected around the world than it was three years ago.

Taking office, Obama faced a daunting national security inheritance: an unfinished war in Iraq and a neglected war in Afghanistan, a metastasizing Al Qaeda, the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to rogue states like North Korea and Iran, the rise of new regional powers like China and an economy that had taken the most serious hit since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Over the past three years, the national security landscape has become more complex with the Arab Spring roiling the Middle East and the financial crisisthreatening Europe.In this political season, Republican challengers have criticized Obama’s handling of these national security challenges, citing “serious failures” in his foreign policy.

But Obama’s performance suggests a different reality: a president who has delivered on his promises, confronted emerging challenges and put in placea long-term strategic vision to make America more secure.Consider: Beyond ending the war in Iraq, he authorized the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden — closing two chapters the Bush administration left unresolved.

Through an unrelenting, targeted counterterrorism campaign, more than two-thirds of Al Qaeda’s senior leadership ranks have been eliminated.Obama alsohas devoted substantially more military and civilian resources to Afghanistan — reversing the Taliban’s momentum. Despite recent tragedies, he has established the conditions to begin transferring responsibility to the Afghan security forces.

As the Arab Spring swept the region, Obama led the international community in an effective response to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.In Libya, he helped build a broad coalition — including both NATO and the Arab League — that ultimately ended Muammar Qadhafi’s brutal dictatorship. He did this at a fraction of the nearly $1 trillion the Bush administration spent on the regime-change effort in Iraq — and with no U.S lives lost.

Meanwhile, Obama also has taken steps to enhance Israel’s defense — providing more than $200 million for anti-rocket systems to protect Israeli civiliansand ensuring that Israel has access to advanced U.S. technologies to maintain its qualitative military edge.Recognizing the significant threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Obama has marshaled unparalleled international support to apply pressure on Tehran to ensure the regime does not develop a nuclear weapon. Iran now finds itself more isolated than ever and the president has kept all options on the table.

The president has also led the international community in taking concrete steps toward reducing the danger from nuclear weapons, signing New START with Russia to significantly reduce Cold War nuclear arsenals. And he has done a great deal to secure and eliminate weapons-usable nuclear materials that could fall into the hands of terrorists.

Even as Obama managed daily crises, his strategic perspective was evident in his insistence that we give greater priority to the Asia Pacific, adapting both our diplomacy and our military posture in the region most important to our long-term prosperity and security.This long view also informed his latest defense budget, which ensures that even in a time of austerity, the U.S. military will remain the world’s best fighting force.

As this election season heats up, we can expect more fiery rhetoric from the Republican challenger. But deeds count more than words. Obama has tackled one tough challenge after another by taking a strong, pragmatic approach to safeguarding U.S. interests and values and strengthening U.S. global leadership. 

  • Michèle Flournoy

    Chief Executive Officer, CNAS

    Michèle Flournoy is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  She served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from Febr...