When ideology replaces foreign policy – receding US leadership on the world stage and its consequences – Part I, The Middle East
With the recent Administration ballyhoo over a nuclear agreement with Iran, one that has most lawmakers, media pundits and global policy wonks ranking the actual number of concessions made to Iran on a scale from incomprehensible to ghastly, the agreement is but another cog in the American retreat train from the world stage. And as US might and influence retreats, we are witnessing vacuums in various global regions being filled by militias and so-called armies using barbarism on a scale not seen since medieval times to cow and displace entire populations, or, by a new order of world hegemons, China, Russia, and Iran. However, nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Middle East. And the consequences, not only for the US, but for the rest of the world bode catastrophic.
President Obama has made numerous speeches and instances of his belief in “American exceptionalism” while others have argued to the contrary. Shortly after President Obama took office in 2009, he gave an March 30 interview to Edward Luce of the Financial Times, who queried him on his views of “American exceptionalism” and the President replied thus:
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.
Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.
And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.
One can argue that this emphasis on the creation of partnerships has taken the US from the role of pre-eminent world leader to “one of the boys,” the boys who sit in the back of the bus, that is. Many of the decisions made by the Obama administration through the years have, in fact, shown our remaining allies that we are now content to be in a supporting role, rather than one where we are the lead actor.
Early into his Presidency, Barack Obama’s signaled his intent and how he viewed American influence. In June 2009, during the Iranian uprising when over 500,000 protesters took to the streets over a “stolen election,” the President remained silent and instead doubled down in his efforts to negotiate with the Iranian regime. Imagine what Reagan would have done.
Two other earlier examples in the first four years of the Administration also come to mind – the Arab Spring leading to the overthrow of Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak and Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi; and, the Syrian chemical weapons “red line.”
Beginning in late 2010 in Tunisia, when a fruit and vegetable vendor immolated himself in protest over government permits, the uprising of discontent, frustration and anger known as the “Arab Spring” spilled over into Egypt. As the Egyptians and US Arab allies watched, President Obama quickly took the side of the protesters vs. long time US ally, President Hosni Mubarak. While Mubarak was considered an iron-fisted strongman, what followed with the election of Muslim Brotherhood member, Mohammed Morsi to the Presidency, soon degenerated Egypt’s economy and country into chaos. Morsi was later overthrown in a coup by the Egyptian Army and General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a coup not recognized by the US government as legitimate. Only in March 2015, was the military arms freeze lifted, when it was finally recognized that it was in the US’ best interests for national security. El-Sisi has been most vocal in his urging the US to take a stronger role in leading the defeat of ISIS.
As for Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi, remember then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark, “we came, we saw, he died.” The Administration participated in the NATO-driven Gaddafi overthrow, without a plan in place to “what comes next.” Now, as Libya has been on an implosion course since 2011, there is no real central government in Libya, militias are stronger, not weaker, and popular support ebbs and wanes. Libya is adrift.
When a red line is not a red line in the case of Syria and chemical weapons. According to the President, “he didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.” For the President, in his August 2012 statement said, “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” On August 21, 2012 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the UN Security Council that he believed the attack (in Ghouta) constituted a war crime. As a result, the Syria delivered data on its chemical weapons arsenal to be destroyed by 2014 in response to US/Russia framework. Later in 2014, CBS news aired this report that Syria is still “systematically using chemical weapons.” So much for chemical weapons destruction; so much for US influence.
However, the first four years of the Obama Administration only set the stage for further American blunders, if you will. The early withdrawal from Iraq without a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) intact has contributed to the rise of the Islamic State known as ISIS. In an interview given three days ago by exiting US Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, he stated his belief “that the chaos now unfolding “might have been prevented” had the U.S. stayed more engaged.” As one of the leading US generals involved in the Iraq war, Odierno also laments the deep cuts being made to the military, with a recent announced decrease of yet another 40,000 troops, and how it affects our overall ability to deter. “In my mind, we don’t have the ability to deter. The reason we have a military is to deter conflict and prevent wars. And if people believe we are not big enough to respond, they miscalculate,” he said.
During the ISIS/ISIL transgressions throughout Iraq and the Middle East, we’ve seen an unbelievably weak response by the US in its strategy and willingness to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. Upon withdrawing from Iraq, we also left out intelligence network in a shambles. Now as we pinprick our way with drones and other limited aerial bombing maneuvers, in favor of our Middle East allies taking on more of a ground operation, we learn that the President has been blocking attempts by our allies to fly in heavy equipment to the Kurds. who have been some of the strongest fighters in the war against ISIS.
And what are the results of these strategic blunders by this Administration. We see those blunders in the rise of a new generation of ISIS killers. With ISIS unstopped, and the President slowly moving toward having the US take a more commanding role in its eradication, the world is faced with a decades long struggle. More than 200,000 Syrians have died. With a Middle Eastern and North African diaspora now coming to the shores of Europe and Turkey, countries are grappling with the overwhelming numbers of migrants and refugees displaced from their homes and causing culture clashes. In Iraq, as featured in a Fox News Report, according to the United Nations, since the incursion by ISIS into Iraq, 8.2 million Iraqis need humanitarian assistance, 3.1 million have fled their homes, and 4.4 million are food insecure. Place this data in the context of General Odierno’s comments mentioned above and the tragedy becomes more grotesque.
With regard to the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, we are already witnessing some of the inner workings. While the focus has been on nuclear breakout and centrifuges, the President was recently were reminded that there are four Americans left behind in Iranian jails on trumped up charges. This in light of individual sanctions being lifted from Iranian Quds Forces’ Major General Qassem Suleimani and others, the equivalent of “get out of jail free” cards. Suleimani is most well known for forces under his command in 2004 shipping into Iraq copper-nosed explosive devices that claimed the lives of more than 500 marines and army service members. The Administration remains unclear as to how their names were included in the fine print.
Another result of the Administration’s policies is the almost complete 180 policy turn done recently by Turkey. Having recently suffered their own ISIS-related terrorism attack, they now have committed to having the US use their airfields in Incirlik to pound the Islamic state. Turkey has also taken the war to the jihadis within Syria. Saudi Arabia, no longer confident in its US ally, earlier this year struck a deal with South Korea for greater nuclear cooperation, which subtly implies they’re ready to buy a bomb should a nuclear arms race proliferate in the Middle East. Jordan, after the horrific video of the ISIS murder of one of its pilots, not only has struck the Islamic state but is prepping to join more forcefully in its war against ISIS. However, there are still some questions its military commanders are asking regarding what is the overall US strategy, as the Iraqi army prepares to retake Ramadi.
Over 3000 US-trained Iraqi troops and Sunni tribesmen are gearing up for the retaking of this now ISIS-controlled stronghold. Even now, the Obama Administration is inveigling itself in the planning, as it is pressuring Baghdad not to include Iraqi Shiite militiamen in the upcoming battle, lest they ignite sectarian violence. However, its the Shiite militia who have been among the most effective units in fighting ISIS.
In summary, most every US President since Washington has left his stamp on US foreign policy, with some establishing doctrines “Monroe” and others catchphrases, “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” However, no President other than Barack Obama has changed US foreign policy so dramatically on so many global fronts. In Part II, we’ll look at Europe and Russia. In Part III, we travel to Asia and the rise of the Chinese incursions into the South China sea.