Barack Obama and the "wimp factor"

Let’s be honest: Presidential toughness is most often associated with either bombing people or threatening to bomb them. As I have noted, this outlook is belied by the fact that nobody is scared of U.S. presidential proclamations despite the United States’ having led three regime-change military operations over the past dozen years. World leaders should be deeply aware that America is unmatched in its ability and propensity to start wars. For more discreet uses of force, Obama administration officials routinely tout the president’s authorization of drone strikes against suspected terrorists and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Just last week, when asked about emboldened enemies, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest stated that the president would not be “shy about ordering the use of military force if he thinks it can be impactful.” Meanwhile, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes reminded everyone, “It’s always worth noting that, look, the United States made clear our willingness to use military force.”

If using force bestowed the president with a reputation of toughness, then Obama would be the John Wayne of presidents. He has authorized 431 targeted killings against suspected militants and terrorists who have killed over 3,300 people. The problem is that Americans correctly recognize that killing people from a safe distance with robots — with no immediate political risks for the White House — is not at all tough. Even the operation to kill bin Laden was far less risky than many imagine — certainly less so than President Jimmy Carter’s authorization of the April 1980 hostage rescue mission in Iran, which the commander then estimated had a zero percent chance of success. As retired Adm. William McRaven noted of the bin Laden raid, it “was a standard raid and really not very sexy.” He also told reporters, “We did 11 other raids much like that in Afghanistan that night.”