Obama’s foreign policy has one core principal: get the USA out of the Middle East. There have been other themes sounded by the White House, most notably the “Pacific pivot”, but backing out perceived military over commitments in the Muslim world has been the prime directive.
The worsening situation in Syria is raising doubts about the wisdom and universal applicability of this principle. Bill Clinton, now acting as “secretary of ‘Splaining Stuff’ has had to warn “Barry” that he was like a total wuss on Syria. While making deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes “be the face of the Syria plan”, the president was off at “an LGBT pride month celebration, a father day luncheon and a reception for the WNBA women’s basketball team.
Even the president’s most ardent supporters are beginning to wonder whether the Obama retreat has gone too far, but we’re much worse off—no better liked, no longer feared, regarded as an increasingly inconstant ally or as an enemy prone to blink.
By the last quarter of 2008 under the Bush plan, the report could accurately trumpet a “nationwide reduction in civilian deaths by almost 63%. The last Bush-era report assessed an improving overall security forces aided by the Sons of Iraq Coalition, continuing support and the demonstrated will of the government of Iraq.
The surge of 2007 and early 2008 had achieved its military objective of suppressing the civil war. The successes were fragile but real. During his last month in office Bush authorized a major review of his Afghanistan strategy. It planned to double the size of the Afghan National Army; restructure the international security assistance force and devote more intelligence assets to tracking down al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in both Afg and Pakistan. Both had been driven from power. The administration in which the president’s decision making circle was small and practical-minded and devoted to inherited strategic tradition. Bush viewed the terror was within its regional context. 9/20/01 he argued that the efforts begin with al Qaeda but it does not end there. Bush made huge efforts to target Bin Laden.
US positions in Iraq and Afg did much to contain Iranian mischief making and posted a credible threat to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Bush also courted traditional regional power partners in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. By the end of the Bush second term the US and Turkish militaries were cooperation in and the Iraqi Kurds tolerating it. At the same time building a deeper partnership with Israel. Bush focused on areas of strategic agreement and avoided the briar patch of trying to broker a comprehensive deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush’s freedom agenda most powerfully enunciated in his second Inaugural Address, proved to be a disappointment to its most ardent champions, the past habit of relying on regional autocrats as partners was now part of the problem not eh solution. In Nov of 2003 Bush had observed that stability the mantra of realist policymakers cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. He forecast that a long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish it would remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.
Obama had never shared a sense of optimism about traditional US strategy in the Middle East, and especially not about Bush’s version of it. As the Illinois state senator he wasn’t opposed to war in all circumstance, just dumb wars and that the looming Iraq war promised to encourage the worst –impulses of the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. In 2006 he was naturally opposed the idea of a troop surge, “it is clear at this point that we cannot, through putting in more troops or maintaining the presence that we have, expect that somehow the situation is going to improve”. In 2007 Obama said the surge has not worked.
Candidate Obama stressed that Iraq was the wrong war not just a series of tactical and operational mistakes but a profound strategic error. He saw it as a blunder of global consequence he claimed the Iraq war emboldened Iran, N Koreas, the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Bush administration had taken its eye off the ball in AFG an Obama administration would “end” the war in Iraq.
Large scale American forces are out, and the administration has forgone whatever opportunities for a continuing close security and military partnership there were. Violence has returned, more that 2000 Iraqis have been killed since April . Al-Qaeda aligned groups are turning. It’s the US withdrawal not intervention that has most emboldened Iran and increase Tehran’s influence.
Obama’s self-defeating AFG surge” of 2009 had transmitted an unmistakable message
of diminishing interest in and commitment to the regions. Having asserted that AFG was the right war, the necessary war and the smart war, the time clock Obama placed on his surge has proved in an entirely foreseeable to the mission there and crippling to the USA.
Obama made a bigger strategic blunder than Bush did. In such wars time is ultimately more important than troop strength.
Where the Iran-Assad-Hezbollah “Shia axis” backed openly by Russia and should it come to it, the Chinese at the UN enjoys what could soon be a decisive advantage, is at last beginning to bring the consequences of the Obama retreat home to a complacent political class.
Obama won’t easily be dislodged from his no-Middle East war prime directive. The history of soviet invasion, Iranian revolution, hostage crisis, seizure of the grand mosque in Mecca, Husseins taking of the reins in Baghdad has been ignored by Obama as he has reversed course and is accelerating toward what is shaping up to be a crash landing.

Sources—weekly standard, tom donnelly


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