5.) Military might and a new foreign policy:
While this decade saw America remain the world’s real Superpower, drastic military changes took place. These changes came straight from the top due to a change in presidential philosophy. This philosophical change explained why, among other things, the Arab Spring did not result in full-blown democracies in the Middle East.
In the 2000s, the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney favored forcible regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2009, America has had two presidents, one of each party, who reject the Neoconservative approach. Obama and Trump are both non-interventionists. They are very reluctant to use hard military power, preferring the soft power of diplomacy.
Neither of these men is absolutists. Obama was quite dovish but was willing to aggressively use predator drones to kill terrorists. He also went against his own desires and used the military to intervene in Libya. Trump’s rhetoric contains plenty of blusters, but he has consistently said the same thing Obama did with regards to ending wars and bringing troops home.
Trump ordering a strike in Syria when Bashar Assad was accused of using chemical weapons on his own people.
However, Obama and Trump have both gone to great lengths to reduce American entanglements overseas. Trump has taken a much harder line on Iran than Obama. Trump has gone the full diplomatic route with North Korea, which was unthinkable in prior administrations.
Both Obama and Trump have distinguished nation-states from rogue actors.
Obama began the decade by ordering the successful strike on Osama bin Laden. On May 1, 2011, Navy SEAL Rob O’Neill fired the fatal shots that killed the al-Qaeda leader. Trump ended the decade by ordering an equally successful strike on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On October 26, 2019, Special Forces known as Delta Force killed the ISIS leader.
A military dog named Conan played a vital role in the latter killing, suffering injuries from electrical wires meant for Delta Forces and saving their lives. Conan survived, but current law prevents military canines from receiving official military honors. There is a quiet movement growing to have President Trump reverse this policy and order Conan the Purple Heart.
Despite these very successful limited strikes, both Obama and Trump have been far more reluctant than Bush to use military force.
Trump vowed during his 2016 campaign to completely withdraw the American military from Syria.
This position was unusual for a Republican and more in line with the left-wing of Bernie Sanders’ Democrat Party. Trump insisted on following through with his campaign promise. After failing to persuade Trump to reverse course, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis resigned in protest.
Obama and Trump sharply differed over the Iran deal. Obama actively promoted it and twisted arms to get it passed. Trump campaigned on withdrawing from it and in-office did exactly that. Yet while Trump has been verbally bellicose with Iran, there is little change in policy from his predecessor. The talk is tougher, and Trump consistently says that all options are on the table.
However, regime change seems highly unlikely. Longtime war hawk John Bolton was marginalized in the Trump administration well before he resigned to avoid being fired.
In 2001, Americans overwhelmingly supported the war in Afghanistan.
In 2003, a majority of Americans supported the war in Iraq. In 2004 they voted to reelect President Bush. Divided Democrats angered their anti-war base by holding a pro-war convention. In 2006, despite growing anger over the Iraq War, Americans backed the surge.
The 2000s saw both political parties embrace the Neocon approach to foreign policy. The anti-war protesters were the fringes. The 2010s saw the anti-war view become dominant in both parties. The Neocons were marginalized. For Democrats to embrace the anti-war position was normal. They have had a strong anti-war contingent since the Vietnam protests began in 1966. For the Republican Party to be almost entirely consumed by anti-war non-interventionist sentiment is nothing short of shocking.
The complete reversal of American public sentiment on issues of foreign intervention cannot be overstated.