“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”I think Obama is right to point to an "establishment" view that willingness to use force enhances a leader's perceived power and that reluctance leads to a perceived weakness. And he's right that when calculations of national interest are low, "credibility" becomes the default argument.
That is the establishment that argued for a direct attack on Soviet forces in Cuba in 1962 and for the prolongation of the war in Vietnam. That was bad advice. On the other hand, Iran needs to believe that the President would use force to prevent deployment of a nuclear weapon in its arsenal. Maybe the threat to use force by someone who has used it successfully --as I think Obama has -- is enough.
There is a surprising passage in the Goldberg article discussing Secretary Kerry's repeated requests to "send a message" to Assad by bombing some regime targets in Syria. [Kerry even seems to think it could be done covertly.]
Obama has steadfastly resisted Kerry’s requests, and seems to have grown impatient with his lobbying. Recently, when Kerry handed Obama a written outline of new steps to bring more pressure to bear on Assad, Obama said, “Oh, another proposal?” Administration officials have told me that Vice President Biden, too, has become frustrated with Kerry’s demands for action. He has said privately to the secretary of state, “John, remember Vietnam? Remember how that started?” At a National Security Council meeting held at the Pentagon in December, Obama announced that no one except the secretary of defense should bring him proposals for military action. Pentagon officials understood Obama’s announcement to be a brushback pitch directed at Kerry.Good. Diplomats shouldn't be choosing targets.