Conservatives are fond of denigrating Barack Obama as a foreign policy wimp, a president determined to demonstrate American weakness around the world, one begging for dialogue with dictators, and apologizing for past American sins, real and imagined. Even if overdrawn, there has been justification for this line of criticism.
Yet there is another side of the coin, which has lately come more sharply into focus. It is not news that, in addition to pouring troops into Afghanistan for the surge, the administration has sharply stepped up the tempo of drone attacks on al Qaeda and Taliban redoubts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, exceeding what the Bush administration was doing in this realm.
But there is more. In Asia, the U.S. military has lately been making an impressive show of force. In response to the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean frigate, by a torpedo fired from a North Korean mini-submarine, the U.S. has now deployed a powerful armada in Korean waters, including the aircraft carrier George Washington. A joint U.S.-South Korean exercise involving 200 aircraft and 18 ships is under way.
Earlier this month three of the most awe-inspiring submarines of the U.S. Seventh Fleet surfaced simultaneously in Asia-Pacific ports: The USS Michigan in Pusan, South Korea, the USS Ohio in Subic Bay, the Philippines, and the USS Florida in the Indian Ocean outpost of Diego Garcia. This was an unsubtle signal to China—and to the entire region—that the United States remains the dominant power in the region.
The Obama administration inherited a world in which the U.S. military continues to dwarf all of its competitors. It is using it to preserve stability in Asia. Barack Obama’s foreign and military policies do not represent a wholesale flight from responsibility. Rather, they present a mixed and complicated picture. Let’s give credit when credit is due.