(Editor’s Note: An occasional look behind political rhetoric.)
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — As a candidate focused on his own election, Barack Obama championed restraint and global cooperation when faced with security threats.
Now, as commander in chief of a world superpower, his rhetoric of the past is being tested by the reality of today as he presses Congress to allow the United States to launch a military strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, over the objections of most major U.S. allies.
It’s a posture that has surprised some who recall how, as a young senator, a 2008 presidential candidate and even a first-term president, Obama cast himself as a counterweight to the more aggressive approach to national security embodied by his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush.
The Democratic president long has advocated a U.S. foreign policy that prioritizes negotiation over confrontation, humility over diplomatic bravado and communal action over unilateralism.
A look at some of Obama’s historical and recent comments on the use of America’s military might:
THEN: “In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch.” — Response to candidate questionnaire from The Boston Globe, December 2007.
NOW: “As commander in chief, I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America’s national security. I do not believe that I was required to take this to Congress. But I did not take this to Congress just because it’s an empty exercise. I think it’s important to have Congress‘ support on it.” — News conference in Stockholm, Sept. 4, 2013.
ON ACTING ALONE
THEN: “In a world in which threats are more diffuse and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.” — Speech accepting Nobel Peace Prize, December 2009.
NOW: “I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable.” — Remarks in the White House Rose Garden, Aug. 31, 2013.
ON APPETITE FOR WAR
THEN: “It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward, to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path.” — Speech in Cairo, June 2009.