It’s Time to Stop Calling Obama a Wuss

The president has waged war from Day 1. It's pathetic that critics still claim he's weak on defense.

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It’s intellectually dishonest and politically unnecessary, since there’s plenty of room to take issue with Obama’s foreign policy without peddling the absurd idea that he’s somehow afraid of war.

What’s worse is that it demeans the process by which Obama — or any other president — decides how and when to involve Americans in a military conflict. It’s the worst kind of “chicken hawking” — in which politicians and pundits simultaneously accuse Obama of weakness and talk tough about what they’d do in (take your pick) Iraq, Libya or Yemen — knowing that they’ll never actually have to back up any of that talk with action.

Dismissing Obama’s approach to war as “passivity” or, in Mitt Romney’s words, “appeasement” is to willingly overlook the criteria that any president ought to apply before going to war: the cost in lives, the economic cost, potential blowback, the need for international consensus and the need for a reason more compelling than “we should do something.” It’s a circumspect — even conservative — approach that should be emulated, not mocked.

Quietly, Obama has compiled a war résumé more impressive than any other president’s since Dwight D. Eisenhower. He opposed the Iraq War but figured out how to wind it down with dignity. He took out Osama bin Laden and found a way to topple Muammar Qaddafi without a single American casualty.

But his overarching military accomplishment was reinstituting Teddy Roosevelt’s wise admonition to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” To no avail, apparently, when it comes to his challengers.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday about Iran, Obama scolded his critics for “beating the drums of war” and reminded them that only the president — not the wannabes and also-rans — bears the weight of “sending our young men and women into battle, and the impact that has on their lives.”

“Everything else,” he said, “is just talk.”

The only thing he might have added was, “Ask Osama bin Laden.”

David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.