Two Days: All the Evidence We Need that Obama Foreign Policy Approach Is Wrong

There will likely be attention – across the political spectrum – to today’s news regarding the Libya debacle. The topic is top of mind and the administration can run, but it can’t hide. Witness this report in the Huffington Post:

The deadly September attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya was not precipitated by an anti-American protest, as had originally been reported, the State Department disclosed Tuesday night. … This revelation stands in contrast to the story originally reported by the Obama administration and others, who claimed that a protest against the anti-Islam film “The Innocence of Muslims” outside the American consulate was co-opted by violent extremists.

But, let’s also focus on some other news from the last two days:

Civil War Leaves Syrian Economy, Cities in Ruins. 

In Syria’s cities and towns, entire blocks of apartment buildings have been shattered … centuries-old markets have been gutted by flames and gunfire … many factories, oil pipelines, schools, hospitals, mosques and churches [that] have been systematically destroyed in nearly 19 months of violence. Aside from the human tragedy of the many lives lost in Syria’s civil war — activists estimate the death toll has now passed 32,000 killed — there is the staggering damage to the country’s infrastructure, economy and cultural treasures. … Experts warn that whenever the civil war ends, it will take a monumental international effort, and perhaps a generation of Syrians, to rebuild what has been broken. (AP)

How does the policy of downplaying the tragedy in Syria look now? Was it right to insist upon deferring to the UN Security Council, wherein the administration knew China and Russia would veto any meaningful action in response to some of the worst human rights atrocities and worst assaults on civilian neighborhoods the world has ever seen?

North Korea Says South, US Within Missile Range.

North Korea on Tuesday warned that the U.S. mainland is within range of its missiles, and said Washington’s recent agreement to let Seoul possess missiles capable of hitting all of the North shows the allies are plotting to invade the country. …. ‘We do not hide … the strategic rocket forces are keeping within the scope of strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces’ bases in the inviolable land of Korea but also Japan, Guam and the U.S. mainland,’ the spokesman said. ….North Korean long-range rockets are believed to have a range of up to about 6,700 kilometers (4,160 miles), putting parts of Alaska within reach, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry. (AP)

How has the policy of “engagement” with the world’s most ruthless regimes and most brutal dictators fared? Did we get anywhere by offering them concessions in exchange for keeping their ruthlessness confined within their own borders? How did “talking” with the Kim dynasty about their nuclear program work out?

Al-Qaeda Making Comeback in Iraq, Officials Say:

Al Qaeda is rebuilding in Iraq and has set up training camps for insurgents in the nation’s western deserts as the extremist group seizes on regional instability and government security failures to regain strength, officials say. … During the war and its aftermath, U.S. forces, joined by allied Sunni groups and later by Iraqi counterterror forces, managed to beat back al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch. But now, Iraqi and U.S. officials say, the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data. (AP)

Let’s consider the history before we forget it: When Obama took office, U.S. and Iraqi forces were indeed managing to “beat back al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch.” Iran – which supplies the insurgency with terrorists, terror training and weapons – had suffered a setback when Maliki signed “The Status of Forces Agreement” with the U.S. This did not stop Obama from lambasting the “arrogance” of the U.S. position and reemphasizing that the war “never should’ve been waged.”

Analysts predicted that Iran would “exploit the power vacuum” as the U.S. withdrew. This did not stop Obama from announcing the withdrawal of U.S. forces in advance, thus allowing extremists to mobilize while they laid in wait. Nor did it stop him from stressing the finality and totality of our withdrawal when he announced the end of combat operations in August, 2010.

Regardless of where one stands on the Iraq War, this was not wise. In an excellent piece in Foreign Affairs, Michael Scott Doran noted that Iran’s geopolitical and ideological “grand strategy” is to wear the United States down. “The shadow war in Iraq was thus a prelude to an impending regional contest. …. Over the years, Iran has injected itself into the Arab-Israeli conflict as a way of projecting its power and influence into Arab societies and, importantly, as a way of undermining American prestige.” And, Iran has “injected itself” into Egypt, Syria and Somalia.

Iran and its proxies are eager to hijack the Arab Spring. The United States, on the other hand, currently lacks eagerness for its strategic alliances and its democratic principles. In the words of Doran, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas bear a “ruthlessness and intensity of focus that the United States – a distracted Gulliver – cannot match.” 

***The Associated Press deserves credit for reporting on these stories.