The president's relentless pursuit of bin Laden and the al Qaeda network is a significant accomplishment. It has transformed the post-9/11 world into one where counterterrorism efforts are important but not the sole driver of our national security policy. The fear doctrine of the previous administration, adopted by Obama's critics, has been replaced by a more optimistic outlook born of a successful counterterrorism strategy.
The pursuit of bin Laden, downplayed by Mitt Romney -- who said he would not "move heaven and earth" to get one terrorist, a naive approach -- transformed our national security interests on several levels. It cut the head off the snake, and it put al Qaeda affiliates on notice that the United States was not going to be deterred until the mission of eliminating them truly was accomplished. One of the most dangerous jobs in the world is to be in the upper echelons of al Qaeda leadership, because the United States keeps tracking them down and eliminating them.
The death of bin Laden should be celebrated instead of devolving into a debate over who deserves the credit. For those who question the president's leadership, they should remember his decision to go after bin Laden. The risks were considerable, and despite reservations from some key advisors, he did what he thought was right. He did what he thought was best for the American people. Today's Republicans too often have disdain for facts, especially when it comes to national security and the chain of command. Here are the facts. Adm. William McRaven, the man in charge of Special Operations Command, said publicly: "At the end of the day, make no mistake about it, it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden … that made the hard decisions."
Obama pursued a coherent strategy with the three wars he inherited -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and against al Qaeda. He protected and promoted U.S. interests. He led the effort, ensuring success, working with our allies, traditional and nontraditional. His rhetoric was measured, his goals clear, and his implementation determined. This is in contrast to the more erratic approach of his predecessors.
What's it all add up to? It's a blueprint for a foreign policy that proceeds in a steady and thoughtful manner, allowing its adherents to approach a more comprehensive and nuanced agenda, an agenda that promotes American interests -- a contrast with the new Republicans, whose main criteria for their foreign policy too often is that it fits into a sound bite. Ours is a model for leadership in national security that thinks before it acts, allowing us to respond constructively to the dramatic changes in the Middle East. It's a foreign policy that understands that most change in the world -- and certainly lasting change -- is homegrown and that we need to support those who share our values and work with those on whom the jury is still out. The path forward may not be easy, but it positions the United States to develop positive relationships with these nations as they forge a new path forward.
Democratic foreign policy as defined by Obama is not driven by a singular ideological point of view. It is based on a balance of interests and values and comprehensive understanding of foreign affairs, adopting policies appropriate to the situation, as the president did with Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. It is clear that the president has shown that when America is threatened or its vital national interests are at stake, he is willing to act unilaterally if necessary, as with the bin Laden raid.
But as David Sanger and others have observed, when important but not less vital interests are at stake, he will act, but preferably by leading a coalition. That was the case with Libya and is the case with Syria, where the administration's course is measured, offering aid and support, encouraging the opposition to be more organized and inclusive, and charting a course that appropriately reflects the complicated and dangerous situation on the ground. There is no right answer with Syria, but as we learned with Iraq, there could be a wrong answer with respect to what to do next, leading to dire consequences. It is unclear what will happen there, but whatever that may be, the United States is in a good position to help shape events in a way that will create conditions for a more stable and politically open Syria without Bashar al-Assad.
Bedeviling administrations from Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan on, the question of how to handle Iran will never be easily answered. Right now, it is particularly complicated because of the concern about Iran's intention to develop a nuclear weapon. But the Obama team took this head-on, showing a willingness to reach out to the Iranian government through international talks like the P5+1 if the Iranian government showed verifiable signs it was sincere about pushing aside any interest in becoming a nuclear weapons state. The administration also has put in place the most aggressive bilateral and multilateral sanctions regime we have ever had in order to send the message to the Iranians we will not be deterred. The president is committed to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.
The administration understands an unwavering policy toward Iran is in the U.S. national interest but also in the interest of our special relationship with Israel. That relationship has been central to U.S. policy in the Middle East. It is integral to overall security concerns, and it is an essential part of the moral dimension of our foreign policy, as Israel is the only true Middle Eastern democracy. This president has been an unfailing friend to Israel. Israeli leaders from Shimon Peres to Ehud Barak to Benjamin Netanyahu have said as much. The president stands with Israel because it is right, and it is in our interest to do so.
There are plenty of other examples of the president's leadership. Like Teddy Roosevelt, he walks softly but carries a big stick in contrast to those in the opposition who rely on slogans and empty rhetoric as a weak substitute for real policy initiatives. Theirs is a Potemkin foreign policy of all facade and no substance. The president, on the other hand, has developed a far-reaching game plan to pursue U.S. interests in Asia with a rebalancing of our foreign policy toward that region. He has had a steady and successful nonproliferation agenda, including passing the New START treaty, tightening sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and generally reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our overall nuclear security strategy.
The Asia pivot has a strong security dimension with a shifting of military assets and the development of an aggressive economic agenda through APEC, ASEAN, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The president understands that a large part of our future is tied to events and relationships in East Asia. Despite pressing issues and concerns in the Middle East and elsewhere, he has been able to look to the future with these forward-thinking initiatives.
There has been much carping and complaining about Russia and China by the president's critics. This bellicose rhetoric is all too familiar and tiresome. These nations play a role globally. China in particular is an integral part of the global economy. We have interests, and they have interests. Where there is common ground -- like New START and Iran sanctions -- we can work together. Where we can't agree, as is the case with Syria, we pursue our own, independent course. Labeling, as the Romney team has done with China and Russia, is fine for talk-show hosts and for partisan political rallies, but it is a waste of time when pursuing real policy issues with real consequences.