In the splurge of “news,” media-bashing, and Bannonism that’s been Donald Trump’s domestic version of a shock-and-awe campaign, it’s easy to forget just how much of what the new president and his administration have done so far is simply an intensification of trends long underway. Those who already pine for the age of Obama—a president who was smart, well-read, and not a global embarrassment—need to acknowledge the ways in which, particularly in the military arena, Obama’s years helped set the stage for our current predicament.
As a start, Nobel Prize or not, President Obama sustained, and in some cases accelerated, the militarization of American foreign policy that has been steadily increasing for the past three decades. In significant parts of the world, the US military has become Washington’s first and often only tool—and the result has been disastrous wars, failing states, and spreading terror movements (as well as staggering arms sales) across the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa. Indicators of how militarily dependent Obama’s foreign policy became include the launching of a record number of drone strikes (10 times as many as in the Bush years), undeclared wars in at least six countries, the annual deployment of Special Operations forces to well over half of the countries on the planet, record arms sales to the Middle East, and a plethora of new Pentagon arms and training programs.
Nonetheless, from the New START treaty (which Trump has called “another bad deal,” as he does any deal the Obama administration concluded) to the Iran nuclear deal to the opening with Cuba, Obama had genuine successes of a sort that our present narcissist in chief, with his emphasis on looking “tough” or tweeting at the drop of a hat, is unlikely to achieve. In addition, Obama did try to build on the nuclear-arms-control agreements and institutions created over the previous five decades, while Trump seems intent on dismantling them.