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Channeling Lincoln: Obama the Commander-in-Chief

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Message John Horton

President Obama last week in a speech from Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan, exhibited forcefully his role as a decisive commander in chief. Harking back to the second inaugural address of President Lincoln and his call for "malice towards none," and "binding the nation's wounds", the President stated, "with faith in each other and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace." . In 2008 many thought Obama would cut and run from foreign engagements -- it was a hallmark of the McCain campaign -- he has proven them wrong.  This President surged troops into Afghanistan, ordered air strikes over Libya, sent troops into the Central African Republic, released Navy Seals on pirates near the Horn of Africa, multiplied the number of drone strikes, and just made an agreement keep US forces in Afghanistan for 23 years. He has not sought war but when necessary has engaged directly and forcefully.

As the President said in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize in 2009, "to say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason." This President recognizes the necessity of success in Afghanistan. It would be easy to have left yesterday. Polls show the American people against the war and there is no political prize for fighting a battle the public believes cannot be won. However, he acutely recognizes the situation as it exists. A committed foe focused on forcing out a central government that is struggling to win the support of its people. If the US troops were to leave hastily, the last ten years of war would be for naught.

More than other Presidents, Obama understands the circumstances and conditions before him and allows them to inform his decision. Lincoln was the same. Lincoln certainly did not enjoy Sherman's March or Grants evisceration of the land around Vicksburg and Richmond.  But he became convinced that as Grant said, "only total and unconditional surrender," would suffice and form a lasting and just peace. Obama is seeking the same. If he could simply wipe out the Taliban, he would. The situation though demands that he negotiate and reconcile the different parties. While advancing peace talks, he is also signaling that the enemy cannot simply wait out NATO and the United States.

With a perception of reality based on facts, President Obama has prosecuted his foreign policy agenda precisely, pragmatically, and out of necessity. Inaugurated as a wartime President,  Obama has lived up to the calling and been equal to the task. 


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John Horton is a policy analyst. He has co-authored op-eds in the Miami Herald, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Michigan Chronicle, and Tallahassee Democrat. He currently resides in Washington, DC.
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