President Obama and Machiavelli

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David E. Sanger, “In Step on ‘Light Footprint’”
The New York Times, January 9, 2013, A1

WASHINGTON — With the selection of a new national security team deeply suspicious of the wisdom of American military interventions around the world, President Obama appears to have ended, at least for the moment, many of the internal administration debates that played out in the Situation Room over the past four years. He has sided, without quite saying so, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s view — argued, for the most part, in the confines of the White House — that caution, covert action and a modest American military footprint around the world fit the geopolitical moment. The question is whether that approach will fit the coming challenges of stopping Iran’s nuclear program and the potential collapse of Syria. Gone for the second term are the powerful personalities, and more hawkish voices, that pressed Mr. Obama to pursue the surge in Afghanistan in 2009, a gamble championed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Robert M. Gates, the former secretary of defense. Gone from the C.I.A. is the man who urged Mr. Obama to keep troops there longer, David H. Petraeus. The new team will include two Vietnam veterans, Senator John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, who bear the scars of a war that ended when the president was a teenager, and a counterterrorism chief, John O. Brennan, who helped devise the “light footprint” strategy of limiting American interventions, whenever possible, to drones, cyberattacks and Special Operations forces. All are advocates of those low-cost, low-American-casualty tools, and all have sounded dismissive of attempts to send thousands of troops to rewire foreign nations as wasteful and ill-conceived. Most important to Mr. Obama and his national security adviser, Tom Donilon, all three are likely to accommodate themselves, in ways their predecessors often did not, to a White House that has insisted on running national security policy from...
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