If history ever remembers Barack Obama for anything more than being the first man of color to become U.S. President, it may be for the simple fact that, unlike many of the presidents before him, he knew when to pause. When Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians, Obama paused. Resisting pressure for immediate retaliation, he called for the international community to join the U.S. in taking action, noting "a lot of people think something should be done, but nobody seems willing to do it."
Obama's hesitation proved to be prudent, as evidence emerged that Syrian opposition forces themselves were less than trustworthy. Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch exposed incidents of possible human rights violations on the rebel side, while former Secretary of State Gen. Colin L. Powell noted that some of their factions were "even more radicalized" with al Qaeda fighters.
In the end, multilateral diplomacy defused the crisis, with al-Assad handing over the regime's chemical weapons stockpile to international control.
Bordering on Chaos
When Russian troops amassed at the border of the Ukraine, and finally crossed it, Obama again resisted pressure to intervene, aside from increasing sanctions against Russia. "We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem," he said.
Obama's caution has so far proven to be merited. Russia's president Putin continues to huff and puff, but he has stopped short of an outright invasion of the country.
Between Iraq and a Hard Place
Now Obama is engaged in the messy civil war raging in Iraq. Several months ago, he was pulled back into the country's internal conflicts by the intense and problematic ISIS terrorists group. Their reign of terror had brought them to the outskirts of the Kurdish-Iraqi town of Kobani, whose inhabitants they threatened to wipe out. Ignoring calls for aggressive military intervention, Obama again paused. He refused to make it a U.S.-only confrontation and instead assembled and led a coalition of more than 40 Sunni Arab and European countries to bomb militant strongholds.
In retaliation, ISIS began to release dramatic videos depicting the beheading of American and European nationalists, threatening the U.S. and its allies with more beheadings unless they ceased their intervention. The grisly videos infuriated American politicians, who increasingly called for Obama to take the fight to this insolent band of terrorists. But even with Obama's military advisor joining those calls, Obama stood firm.
"As your commander in chief, I will not commit...to fighting another ground war in Iraq," he declared .
After several months of bombardments, ISIS appeared undeterred. The group continued to commit every conceivable human atrocity in its quest for control of the country. With the city of Kobani and other key Iraqi regions on the verge of falling to them, Iraqi leaders implored the U.S. to put soldiers on the ground. Iraqi troops and other fighters threatened to abandon the fight if the U.S. didn't help. When American helicopters joined the fight to prevent ISIS from overrunning the airport in Bagdad, it seemed that Obama was finally succumbing to the pressure for ground troops.
However, the latest news is that the U.S. led airstrikes are finally slowing down ISIS' advancement across the country. Kobani appears to be holding, with Kurdish fighters and residents saying that, thanks to the airstrikes, the city may not fall to ISIS, after all.
Before voicing our disappointments with the Obama presidency, let us pause.