President Barack Obama tried to fend off criticism of his Iraq policy, as that country fell into the clutches of a terrorist army this week, by insisting that he was considering “all the options” for a response. “I don’t rule out anything,” he said.
Of course he doesn’t. The essence of postmodernism–of which this president is the political fulfillment–are a profound moral relativism, a habitual flexibility, a hermeneutical hanging-out.
Yet what does it mean to consider “all the options”? The president uses that phrase to suggest that he has not ruled out military force. He said much the same thing about Iran’s nuclear program, for example, and Syria’s chemical weapons.
But “all the options” could mean, in the literal sense, that Obama is also considering the opposite: i.e. surrender. And that, in effect, is what Obama’s foreign policy has been for the last six years.
The fall of Iraq is an American surrender, though the Obama administration is striving mightily to cast it solely as an Iraqi one. It is a surrender to the Sunni terror groups that U.S. and coalition forces had once defeated, at great cost. And it is a surrender to the Iranian regime, which will use its Revolutionary Guards’ intervention in Iraq against the spread of ISIS as a way of expanding its regional hegemony right across the Fertile Crescent.
There are some positive aspects to Iran’s involvement. In the bloodiest sense, it is strategically useful to have Iran tied down in a set of wars across a massive geographical area. Or, rather, it would be useful, were the Obama administration committed to regime change in Iran.
Instead, however, President Obama has shored up the Iranian regime whenever possible, seeing it as the basis for a “New Equilibrium” in the Middle East.
No–we are witnessing an American surrender, even by President Obama’s own standards.
Though conservative columnist George Will quipped this week that Obama is delivering Americans the foreign policy for which they voted, and Iraq War veteran Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) made much the same point in calling Obama’s pullout from Iraq the fulfillment of a campaign promise, in fact Obama promised voters a significantly different policy.
Thanks to the magic of archive.org, it is possible to recover exactly what then-Sen. Obama promised he would do in Iraq if trusted with the powers and responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief.
While promising to withdraw combat troops, and pledging not to build permanent bases, Obama vowed: “if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.”
It was Obama’s precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, after his failed effort–half-hearted at best–to negotiate a new agreement with the Iraqi government to keep a U.S. military presence there, that led directly to the terrorists’ resurgence.
His refusal to intervene in Syria, at an early stage when the rise of Islamist militias might have been checked, also allowed ISIS to develop into the fighting force it is today, building what it sees as a new caliphate.
Though foreign policy analogies are rather perilous, and there is more than a world of difference between 20th century Europe and the 21st century Middle East, what we are seeing is akin to the dismemberment of Poland, carved up in 1939 by rival totalitarian forces as the war-weary West did little to intervene. In this case, Iraq is wracked by simmering sectarian tensions that will tend to make its division not only bloody, but permanent.
Yet there are U.S. allies in the region–allies that include what is left of the Iraqi government, that might include the Kurds and some Afghans, and that certainly include Israel. It is not too late to shore up our commitments–military, diplomatic and otherwise–to these allies so that they might withstand the onslaught of both Sunni and Shia extremism, and remain as oases of stability in a brutal sandstorm. Yet little such support is forthcoming.
Instead, the Obama administration has words of rebuke for almost everyone that has made common cause with the U.S. He openly accuses Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai of corruption, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of neglect, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of short-sightedness.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Ukraine at Russia’s hands is reinforcing foreign impressions of the weak value of friendship with the U.S.
Flexibility is a good thing–but when your foreign policy, especially at moments of crisis, is one of “all the options,” then in fact it is designed to fail. There must always be policies that are clearly off the table.
For the once-hated President George W. Bush, surrender was never an option. For Obama, the only non-option is keeping his campaign promise: “[W]e will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq,” he said Friday.
To some extent, that does reflect American public sentiment, which is wary of sacrificing abroad, yet again, for people who often hate us (and each other). Yet that sentiment is reinforced by a lack of public trust in this particular Commander-in-Chief.
In 2008, Obama’s opponent, John McCain, noted that Obama never used the word “victory” in describing his foreign policy. Victory, clearly, is not one of “all the options.” Hence our defeat.