Obama's Pragmatism Will Strengthen Foreign Relations and National Security

President Obama learned the lessons from past mistakes.

By + More

Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, is a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.

For the first time in almost a decade, we have an American president who approaches the security threats facing our country from a standpoint of pragmatism, not ideology. Barack Obama's young presidency has blended realism with fidelity to American ideals in a way that has not only kept us safe but represents a fundamentally better approach than the discredited unilateralism of the recent past.

The United States has neither the money nor the manpower to police the world, nor should we try. Our president does not seek out countries to invade, but he is unafraid to use our military when and where it is needed to protect our vital interests.

During last fall's campaign, critics argued that enhanced dialogue and diplomacy undercut muscular American leadership. They were wrong. President Obama has continued to play offense in the fight against global extremism while stepping up efforts to rebuild relationships key to solving our most pressing security challenges.

Eight years ago, Osama bin Laden launched the 9/11 attacks from a lawless sanctuary provided by the Taliban. Today, the president understands that our combined efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are necessary to ensure that al Qaeda never again has a safe haven from which to plot against us.

Sometimes, we must use military power to take the fight to the enemy, and President Obama has wisely increased resources and forces to help the Afghans build up their own security forces. He has intensified targeted strikes on al Qaeda terrorist camps along the Afghan border and demanded more accountability from Pakistan, whose leaders have started to take the al Qaeda and Taliban threats more seriously.

The United States must never be afraid to act unilaterally in our defense, nor can we ever rely solely on the United Nations—an imperfect institution. However, we have witnessed the perils of "going it alone." Policies that left America more isolated in the world in turn left the American people less secure.

Upon taking the oath, President Obama moved too quickly install a seasoned cabinet of national security realists including Bob Gates at the Department of Defense and Hillary Clinton at the State Department. They offer steady leadership in the face of an alarming litany of inherited problems: two wars, an imploding economy, and hostile regimes in Iran and North Korea that are moving closer to deliverable nuclear weapons.

In Iraq, the president has pursued a policy of responsible disengagement, gradually drawing down troops as Iraqi security forces have begun to demonstrate more competence. This plan has given our military commanders on the ground the flexibility to respond to spikes in violence while ultimately recognizing that the Iraqis need to solve their own problems.

Our commander in chief seeks to leave behind a stable and democratic Iraq, but his strategy appropriately asks what is in our country's best interests. To protect our country, our soldiers must be battle-ready, with intervals of rest between deployments. A responsible withdrawal will give our troops an opportunity to rest and recharge after seven wrenching years of counterinsurgency warfare. The president understands the strategic vulnerability posed by concentrating most of our armed forces in one place for so long. It constrains our ability to deter and respond to emergencies elsewhere.

Every day brings us closer to a potential nuclear emergency in Iran. Regrettably, President Bush's policies helped to increase Iranian influence in the Middle East and accelerate its uranium enrichment program. Nuclear proliferation is a threat to the entire world, and international cooperation is necessary to ensure that atomic weapons technology does not spread to rogue regimes and terrorists.

President Obama's diplomatic outreach to Iran has put the mullahs on the defensive: They can no longer credibly ask their citizens to blame all of Iran's problems on the West. Even if the administration's outreach does not persuade the ayatollahs to rethink their nuclear policy, our diplomatic efforts can help make the case to China and Russia—the pivotal U.N. Security Council votes—that the time has arrived to act. In the Senate, 71 lawmakers have cosponsored my bill to give the president authority to impose the toughest economic sanctions to date against Iran for its illicit nuclear pursuits.