It may be hard to remember now, but America's current president first distinguished himself as an anti-war candidate, winning a Nobel Peace Prize after only a few months on the job. But as president, Barack Obama has more often than not played the tough guy.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Afghanistan: By the end of this year, Obama will make good on his campaign promise to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq — though, as many have pointed out, on a timetable negotiated by his predecessor. In Afghanistan, however, it has been a different story. Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops to the country in 2009 as part of a "surge" strategy meant to give Afghan forces breathing room to increase their own capacity. The surge troops are due to be removed by the end of 2012.
War on terror: The killings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki have gotten all the attention, but those were just the best-known examples of the Obama administration’s massive assassination campaign targeting al Qaeda and the Taliban’s leadership, mostly through the use of unmanned drones. As of October 2011, according to research by the New America Foundation, the United States had carried out 235 drone strikes in Pakistan under Obama, compared with only 42 such strikes during George W. Bush’s second term. Up to 2,200 people may have been killed in these strikes, of whom about 20 percent were civilians. The administration has also ramped up drone strikes against militant targets in Yemen and Somalia.
Intervention: A self-described admirer of George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy, Obama might have been fairly termed a Bush 1-style realist for his first two years. But in Libya this year, the administration tore up the playbook and committed itself to armed humanitarian intervention. Although critics accused Obama of foot-dragging, the beginning of airstrikes just a month after protests started in Libya was actually light speed by the standards of previous interventions. Near the end of the year, the administration also committed U.S. trainers to the fight against the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.
Drug war: The Obama administration had advertised a gentler approach to drug enforcement. Early in his term, White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske pushed to ban the term "drug war," saying, "We’re not at war with people in this country." But the shift isn’t reflected in the numbers. More than 1.6 million people were arrested on drug charges in each of the first two years of the Obama administration — the average for the Bush years was 1.8 million — and the vast majority of these were nonviolent possession cases. The administration has also proposed a substantial increase in funding for Mexico’s heavily militarized drug war.