Reality Check: Yes, President Obama Is a Hawk

Both parties have an interest in painting the president as a dove, but reporters should not allow that spin to skew their coverage.


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President Obama delivers a nationally televised address from Bagram Air Force Base Tuesday. / Reuters

Hawk (noun): A person who favors military force or action in order to carry out foreign policy. -- The American Heritage Dictionary
In a New York Times article titled "A Delicate New Balance on National Security," White House correspondent Peter Baker unintentionally demonstrates why it's problematic to describe a candidate's foreign policy by presenting the rhetoric put forth by the man and his partisan opponents.

Says the article:
One moment he boasts about taking out America's No. 1 enemy, and the next he vows to bring home troops from an unpopular war. For President Obama, the days leading up to his re-election kickoff have been spent straddling the precarious line between hawk and dove, and possibly redefining his party for years to come.
Obama may be worried about the perception that he is dove. He may need to respond to Republicans who say that he has "a fundamentally weak approach to rivals and rogue states like Iran, North Korea and Russia," as Baker puts it. But let's not lose sight of his actual record.

Obama isn't straddling a line between hawk and dove.

He is a hawk.

It's terrifying that isn't clear to everyone, because it suggests the neoconservative desire for even more foreign wars is skewing the way that Americans conceive of hawkishness and dovishness. It suggests we're defining "warmonger" down.

Here are the facts:
  • Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, adding tens of thousands of troops at a cost of many billions of dollars.
  • He committed American forces to a war in Libya, though he had neither approval from Congress nor reason to think events there threatened national security.
  • He ordered 250 drone strikes that killed at least 1,400 people in Pakistan.
  • He ordered the raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
  • He expanded the definition of the War on Terrorism and asserted his worldwide power to indefinitely detain anyone he deems a terrorist.
  • He expanded drone attacks into Somalia.
  • He ordered a raid on pirates in Somalia.
  • He deployed military squads to fight the drug war throughout Latin America.
  • He expanded the drone war in Yemen, going so far as to give the CIA permission to kill people even when it doesn't know their identities so long as they're suspected of ties to terrorism.
  • He's implied that he'd go to war with Iran rather than permitting them to get nuclear weapons.

In summary, President Obama escalated a major war and sent tens of thousands more troops to fight it, even as he joined in regime change in a different country, ordered drone strikes in at least three others, and sent commandos into Pakistan, a list of aggressive actions that isn't even exhaustive.

It's perverse for that record to be rendered, in America's newspaper of record, as Obama "straddling the precarious line between hawk and dove." In fact, he is a hawk. Republicans are misrepresenting his record and positions and some progressives are doing the same, because they are rightly embarrassed by the gulf between his campaign promises and the record he's amassed.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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