Up Obama’s Cataclysmic Foreign Policy Failures
May 26, 2015
With the Islamic State
expanding its reach after two key victories in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s
Anbar Province, and Palmyra, a strategically important city in Syria, it might a
good time to ask: What are the worst foreign policy failures of Barack Obama’s
presidency? The list is long; here are several to choose from.
1. The Rise of ISIS.
President Obama failed to anticipate the rise of ISIS, which he ridiculed as a
team” as recently as last year, and he has since failed to do
anything effective to impede it. ISIS had established territory in large parts
of Syria and Iraq; it now “controls
a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist
organizations.” Under Mr. Obama’s watch, a jihadist caliphate has
been established in the heart of the Middle East — and the president has no
strategy to deal with it.
2. Losing the War in Iraq.
President Obama’s predecessor handed to him a war that had been won. Don’t
take my word for it; take the word of Mr. Obama and his vice president. On
December 14, 2011, in welcoming troops home at Ft. Bragg as he was ending the
American presence in Iraq, the president declared
“we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” It was,
the commander-in-chief said, a “moment of success.” A year earlier Vice
President Joe Biden put it this
way: “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I think it’s going to be
one of the great achievements of this administration.” All our hard-earned
achievements were undone by the president’s determined commitment to withdraw
all American troops from Iraq during his presidency. He did what he was
determined to do and, as a result, Iraq is collapsing and Iran is rushing in,
increasing its influence to an unprecedented degree.
3. Failing to Aid Iran’s
Green Revolution. In the summer of 2009, a revolution in Iran
threatened to topple the mullahs. Leaders of the so-called “Green
Revolution” pleaded for support. They got none. President Obama, in saying
he “want[ed] to avoid the United States being the issue inside Iran”, did
nothing to aid the pro-democracy elements that were seeking to overthrow the
Islamic theocracy. Whether our assistance would have altered the course of
events is impossible to know — but the president, in essentially casting his
lot with the Iranian regime during its most vulnerable period since the 1979
revolution, ensured the democratic uprising would fail. And with it, our best
chance of the Middle East cleansing itself of the most malignant and dangerous
regime on earth.
4. Triggering a Nuclear
Arms Race in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has long advocated a Middle East
free of nuclear weapons. But President Obama’s determined effort to strike a
deal with Iran, in which all the important concessions are made by us and none
by the Iranians, has petrified our traditional Sunni allies in the region.
Fearful of Iran, nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others are now
considering and/or preparing to acquire nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia’s former
intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al Faisal, declared
in March that whatever Iran gets in its nuclear deal with the United
States, “we will want the same.” Ibrahim al-Marie, a retired Saudi colonel
and a security analyst in Riyadh, put it this way: “Our leaders will never
allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon while we don’t. If Iran declares a nuclear
weapon, we can’t afford to wait 30 years more for our own—we should be able
to declare ours within a week.” The president’s effort to strike a deal
with Iran, then, is triggering a nuclear arms race in the world’s most
volatile region, with the risks of nuclear war increased by the threat of
terrorist groups acquiring radioactive material.
5. Erasing the “Red
Line” in Syria. In 2012, President Obama said
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad — who the previous year was referred to as a “reformer”
by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — should step down and that the use of
chemical weapons by the Assad regime against rebel forces would constitute
crossing a “red line.” Mr. Assad crossed the red line, and President Obama
did nothing. The brutal Syrian leader is still in power, Syria is being torn
apart by a civil war in which around
a quarter of a million people have died, around four million have
fled as refugees, and around eight million have been internally displaced.
Syria’s neighbors are being destabilized. And an unmistakable message of
weakness was sent by Mr. Obama and received by every adversary and ally of the
United States: Mr. Obama’s words and threats are worthless.
6. The Failure to Arm
Syrian Rebels. As Syria began to unravel, in 2012 then-CIA director David
Petraeus and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton developed
a plan to vet Syrian rebels and train a cadre of fighters who
would be supplied with weapons. The plan was supported at the time by Leon
Panetta, who was defense secretary, and Martin Dempsey, who was chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff. But it was ultimately vetoed by President Obama, according
to Mr. Panetta. The president was worried about becoming more deeply
involved in Syria. That hasn’t worked out very well, though. America is not
only involved in Syria; we have launched military airstrikes against it and Mr.
Obama has proposed a major program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels,
though it’s likely too late to influence events on the ground. It’s
impossible to know if the Petraeus plan would have succeeded when it was
proposed three years ago. But what we do know is that today, with America taking
a hands-off approach, (a) Syria has become a humanitarian and geopolitical
catastrophe and (b) we have been drawn into the conflict.
Libya Collapses and Becomes a Terrorist Safe Haven.
On March 19, 2011, President Obama unilaterally authorized the U.S.
military to begin “a limited military action in Libya” to protect Libyan
civilians. He said
by intervening in Libya’s civil war, he was acting “in the interests of the
United States and the world.” Six months later, during a September 21, 2011
speech to the United Nations, President Obama declared,
“Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata
to Benghazi — today, Libya is free… Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya
took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is
reopening our embassy in Tripoli. This is how the international community is
supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and
security, and individuals claiming their rights.” Since then — and in good
part because of the lack of American follow through and engagement — we have
closed our embassy. Syria has been declared
a terrorist safe haven by the State Department. No central authority
exists. The Libyan state has collapsed and is being torn asunder by civil war. According
to the New York Times, “the violence threatens to turn Libya
into a pocket of chaos destabilizing North Africa for years to come.” An
intervention Mr. Obama once hailed as a model now lies in ruins.
8. Russian Aggression in
Crimea and Ukraine. In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the
reset.” It was said to be a “win-win” situation for both sides.
It hasn’t worked out quite that way. The United States scrapped a
missile-defense system the Poles and the Czech Republic had agreed to house
despite Russian threats, as a way to pacify Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In
return, Russia has reasserted its presence in the Middle East in ways unseen
since the 1970s, propped up the Assad regime in Syria, supported Iran’s
nuclear ambitions and its repression at home, invaded Crimea, militarily
intervened in Ukraine, and given safe haven to Edward Snowden. During Mr.
Obama’s watch, Putin has “position[ed] contemporary Russia as the heir to
the Russian Empire as it was constituted under the czars,” according
to the Russian American journalist and author Masha Gessen. That is
what the “Russian reset” looks like in real life.
A few summary thoughts on all
this: There are limits to America’s capacity to influence world events. It’s
difficult for even the best presidents to deal with an untidy and sometimes
uncooperative world. And in some of the examples I’ve cited, President Obama
is more responsible for the failures that have occurred than in others. But in
each of these instances Mr. Obama has made things worse, and in most cases he
has made things markedly worse. The cumulative and convulsive effects of his
failures are extraordinarily damaging to America and the world.
President Obama, in describing
his foreign policy doctrine in private conversations to reporters, said, “We
don’t do stupid sh*t.” He actually does, quite a lot, and in ways that may
be unmatched by any president in our history. Over the course of his presidency,
Mr. Obama has implemented the policy he’s wanted. As a result, in several
nations and in some regions, he has helped open the gates of hell.