President Obama’s commitment to reducing America’s reliance on the military instrument of power is well-known. It has been a constant theme of his presidency – from his first presidential campaign through his major speech on foreign policy at West Point earlier this year. It is therefore paradoxical that the administration’s foreign policy outlook and operational style have made use of the military instrument almost unavoidable. By failing to understand that the space between war and peace is not an empty one – but a landscape churning with political, economic, and security competitions that require constant attention – American foreign policy risks being reduced to a reactive and tactical emphasis on the military instrument by default.

Despite the President’s warnings at West Point that we must not “rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences,” we did exactly that in Libya – years after the mistakes and lessons of Iraq had become apparent. It is now accepted that the U.S.-led coalition that helped to overthrow the Libyan dictator had no substantive plans to consolidate political order following the use of military force. Some two years after that military action, the United States began to “consider” the “possibility” of establishing a military training mission for Libya’s fledgling security forces. In a recent New York Times interview, President Obama expressed regret about America’s failure to consider the requirements of stability. Libya remains a symbol of a one-off reliance on a narrow band of military power: the use of just one aspect of military power as a tactical instrument to target enemy forces remotely, in which military force is not connected to an operational plan for subsequent political consolidation. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog