By Hastings Wyman –
In 2011, the United States under President Obama’s leadership joined a coalition and helped – with fire-power, not troops – “liberate” Libya, a quiescent dictatorship that had caused us no trouble since Ronald Reagan sent a rocket into Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s home in 1986. Today, Libya is a mess where militants murdered the US Ambassador, with Secretary of State Clinton complicit in a cover-up scheme to pin the blame on some anti-Muslim amateur film maker in Hollywood. Since then, Coptic Christians from neighboring Egypt have been ordered to leave Libya so ISIS-types won’t behead more of them.
The Obama Administration also celebrated the “Arab Spring,” including the one in Egypt. “The people in Egypt have spoken,” said the president. After the overthrow of Mubarak, a dictator but also a US ally, the uber-Islamic Muslim Brotherhood won the elections and start making common cause with terrorists. Luckily, the pro-US military took back the country.
President Obama drew the line in the sand in Syria, only to back down when the line was crossed. We continue to fund a miniscule group of so-called moderates there, in hopes that they, not ISIS – or ISIL, as the White House calls it – will eventually triumph in that country’s civil war. Moreover, although President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus is neither a good guy nor friendly to the US, he does oppose ISIS. (What happened to “the enemy of our enemy is our friend?”)
In addition, both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have blamed the ISIS/L extremism on “root causes,” primarily poverty. While ending poverty is a worthy goal on its on merits, the large number of highly educated young terrorists from well-to-do families belies that simplistic explanation.
And that’s just the Middle East. In the Ukraine-Russian conflict, Obama has imposed damaging economic sanctions on Russia, but has hesitate to send arms to the Ukrainian army, and Russia continues its military action in its small neighbor, ignoring the so-called cease fire. Meanwhile, Lithuania, another small country adjacent to Russia, is reinstituting the draft because of fears of Mr. Putin’s ambitions.
On the other hand, the Obama Administration has done some things right. For all his toned-down rhetoric, Obama is on occasion willing to act aggressively, witness the killing of Osama bin Laden, the continual use of drones to attack ISIS targets, including their leaders, and more recently, an increased use of – non-combat, for now – US troops in Iraq.
Moreover, the President’s refusal to use the term “Islamic” when describing the terrorists is a smart move. More than anything else in the Middle East, the West needs allies of the Islamic faith. Why unnecessarily turn this into a Christian/Jewish versus Muslim fight if we don’t have to? That would only make our efforts to defeat the terrorists of ISIS and Al-Qaeda that much more difficult.
Moreover, President Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia to meet the new King Salman following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah, was another sign of savvy strategy. The Saudis are hardly small-d democrats, but they are essential to the West’s goals in the region, and the President’s trip acknowledged that in a major and personal way.
As for the nuclear negotiations with Iran, they may or may not turn out well. It depends on whether President Obama relies on his ideological instincts, which have produced near-disastrous results, or acknowledges reality, as he has in Saudi Arabia.
The Republicans, however, give us little to cheer about. House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress, with no clearance from the White House, waves a red flag in front of the Middle Easterners whose resentment of the aggressive and expansive Israeli government is very much merited.
More importantly, the GOP is far from united it its foreign policy. US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) carries the hawks’ banner and probably tells the truth when he says we can’t defeat ISIS until we are willing to risk boots on the ground. But he hasn’t made a persuasive case to the American public that is in this nation’s interest to send more young men to foreign deserts to face death or torture, especially when the US is moving swiftly toward energy independence.
At the GOP’s other extreme, US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) continues to tout a near-isolationist line. He refused to vote for stricter sanctions on Iran, praised President Obama’s recognition of Cuba, and has repeatedly spoken out against military actions by the US.
In between, there’s a lot of muddle. Attacks on Obama for not modifying the noun “terrorists” with the adjective “Islamic” is not a foreign policy, merely bombast.
In today’s dangerous and complex world, there is no obvious foreign policy path for this nation, the world’s strongest and wealthiest country. But leaders in both parties could do worse than heeding the words of President Theodore Roosevelt: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Today, the Republicans speak too loudly, while President Obama wields too small a stick. Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.