“Obama’s Middle Eastern foreign policy is a failure.” So says the Republican Party during this overheated election year. The problem with this statement is that it is patently false. It is political rhetoric meant to discredit the Democrats and help the Republicans retain control of Congress and gain the presidency.
The reality is quite different. President Obama’s foreign policy, though imperfect, has been consistent, and well thought out. When Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, the U.S. was enmeshed in two Middle Eastern wars: Afghanistan and Iraq.
The second Iraq War had cost us nearly 4,500 American lives, thousands of wounded, and possibly more than 1 million Iraqis killed or displaced. The Afghan War has been the longest in our history and has cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of killed, wounded or exiled Afghans.
Obama’s foreign policy has been one of caution. He came to the conclusion early that the Middle East was costing too much blood and treasure. While we are the great superpower, our resources and strength are limited. There needed to be a change in policy.
Obama’s change in policy has been an attempt to “pivot to Asia” to deal with a rising China. It was a calculated decision to use a balance of power doctrine in the Middle East. We would, by our withdrawal, force the Turks, the Iranians and the Saudis to deal with the mess in their region. We would be involved, but only when it would be in our own best interest.
The Islamic State (ISIS), while a threat to its neighbors, is not an existential threat to the United States. They do not have nuclear missiles and they have seen their territory reduced by more than 40 percent since their creation in 2014.
We are no longer as dependent on the Middle East for oil as we were in the 1970s. We have gained a higher degree of energy self-sufficiency helped by the increase in oil production due to fracking in our own country. We went from being a major importer of oil to one of the great petroleum producing nations, having greater reserves than either Saudi Arabia or Russia. This has changed the equation for the U.S.
Further, the threat of a nuclear Iran has been greatly reduced. The recent agreement negotiated with Iran and major European powers allows for inspections of Iranian facilities and a reduction in Iranian nuclear fuel. We have been given more time to prepare if the Iranians renege on their agreement. Iran spends $30 billion a year on defense, while the United States spends $600 billion. We can intervene at any time, if necessary.
After our withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, the president’s policy has been to use our air power, our military intelligence and our special forces to train and support our anti-ISIS allies. It is the height of foolishness to advocate the return of thousands of U.S. soldiers.
To blame the president for the rise of ISIS is to deny the fact that the boundaries of Iraq are artificial, created at the end of World War I. Three disparate sections of that country were bound together: the Shias, the Sunnis and the Kurds. Changes have brought about the end of those illogical boundaries.
Islam has been in the midst of radical upheaval in the Middle East. Little of it has to do with U.S. actions. Rather, it has to do with a religious culture struggling to deal with modernity and change. To blame Obama for the rise of Islamists is to deny the political, social and economic changes that have roiled this region since the end of World War II and before.
The complaint that Obama should have negotiated an agreement to keep American forces in Iraq after 2011 is based on arrogance and ignorance. It must be remembered that President George W. Bush destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nation with “Shock and Awe.” He disbanded the Iraqi army, a chief cause of the resurrection of ISIS.
President Bush also set up a democratic government with Shiite leader al-Maliki. It was al-Maliki’s decision to favor his Shiite brothers and discriminate against the Sunnis, creating dissatisfaction that led to the creation of ISIS. To think the U.S. has the right to dictate the behavior of a democratically elected government is outright imperialism.
Democracies have the right to act stupidly. (Just think about our current presidential election.) No president has been able to bring peace to the Middle East since the end of World War II, whether Democrat or Republican. To blame Obama for the current mess in the Middle East is to deny reality. No president can bring peace to this region. There are too many divisions and festering wounds.
Conflict will continue long into the future.