How the inner Obama fights ISIS

Story highlights

  • Sreedhar Potarazu: Barack Obama has long admired Gandhi and MLK, hence, he wants to avoid wars
  • The leader of the free world faces circumstances where nonviolent diplomacy is not always an option

Sreedhar Potarazu, an ophthalmologist and entrepreneur, is the founder of Enziime, a software company focused on providing data science applications to assess health care delivery. He is the author of "Get Off the Dime: The Secret of Changing Who Pays for Your Health Care." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)What would Gandhi do? What would Dr. King do?

These are questions that come up as President Obama struggles to balance his vision of a better and more peaceful world with the clamor for swift military responses to the evil acts of ISIS.
Sreedhar Potarazu
Before he became a U.S. senator, Obama openly discussed his moral compass and how deeply rooted it was in the convictions and philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He paid further homage to them when he became president. After a visit to India in 2010, he said:
    "Throughout my life, including my work as a young man on behalf of the urban poor, I've always found inspiration in the life of Gandhi and his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world.
    "And just as he summoned Indians to seek their destiny, he influenced champions of equality in my own country, including a young preacher named Martin Luther King.
    "After making his pilgrimage to India a half century ago, Dr. King called Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance 'the only logical and moral approach' in the struggle for justice and progress.'"
    But Obama, unlike Gandhi and King, is president of the United States. And when you're the leader of the free world, nonviolence is not always an option.
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    The President now finds himself stuck in a quagmire of evil in the Mideast. ISIS has gone international, claiming responsibility for this month's bombing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt and last week's coordinated attacks that killed 129 people in Paris. Their new video shows images of Washington, D.C. and New York City. Their intentions are clear.
    But fighting ISIS could mean siding with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his supporter, Vladimir Putin. If the enemy of his enemy is his friend, then which enemy does Obama choose? This is the dilemma he's facing.
    The President has arrived at a twisted fork in the road, and both paths are fraught with peril. He is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who wants to be remembered as having been worthy of the honor, but his current predicament offers no easy way out.
    In his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama was clear on his stance:
    "I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: 'Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.' As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence."
    Like Gandhi and Dr. King, Obama is a believer in peace and nonviolence. Unlike Gandhi and Dr. King, he has to deal directly -- and daily -- with powerful thugs and gangsters who see things very differently than he does.
    He could well be wondering: How do you reason with unreasonable people? How would Gandhi negotiate with Genghis Khan? How might Dr. King talk to Al Capone?
    Obama's aspirations are no different from those of Gandhi and Dr. King, but, sadly, there comes a time when nonviolent diplomacy loses out to circumstance.
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    In some respects, Gandhi's disappointment in the partitioning of India into two countries -- Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India -- mirrors the president's position on accepting Syrian refugees. Gandhi wanted the two religions to coexist in the same country, but it wasn't meant to be. Obama may likewise be forced to settle for an uncomfortable solution.
    Earlier this week, during his press conference in Turkey, the President spoke about how gut-wrenching it is to visit soldiers in the hospital whom he has sent to war, and who have come home paralyzed or without limbs.
    Such is the moral compass of the U.S. commander in chief: He doesn't want to put more lives of our young husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and sons and daughters in harm's way. He doesn't want us to get stuck in more violence, endless conflicts and wars.
    The President has tried to minimize collateral damage by resorting to a strategy of precision attacks, such as using drones as in the case of "Jihadi John" or Navy SEALs in dealing with Osama bin Laden.
    I've had the privilege of observing the President on many occasions. He is a deep thinker, a man of great intellect who clearly sees the world through a lens far different from any of ours. He bears the weight of global turmoil on his shoulders, but he doesn't flinch. He keeps his poise. He is not the sort of man who will put lives at stake without calculating the consequences of every step, without measuring every tear and every drop of blood that will be shed.
    People in leadership roles often become immune to the difficulty of making these decisions, because emotion can cloud objectivity. President Obama will abandon neither.
    With bombs blowing up airplanes and gunmen mowing down concertgoers, most of us would find it impossible to think about the higher moral cause. But there is no doubt that this is exactly what the President is doing as he considers his next steps.
    The world is frustrated. It is shouting, "Shoot! Do something! Attack!" But it should pause to ask, "Who is this man? Who is this president?"
    He is a man who seeks peace and he will not be rash in determining his next steps. He will ask himself, "What would Gandhi do? What would Dr. King do?"
    The answers may not be comforting, but they will come from deep introspection and not impulse, because that is the inner Obama.