On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the terrorist strikes on 9/11, President Obama last night addressed the nation and reprised every delusional and bankrupt internationalist idea that contributed to that disaster. The current Syrian crisis––merely the latest Middle Eastern example of Obama’s incompetence––exemplifies more thoroughly than the rest just how politicized, incoherent, hypocritical, and dangerous to this country’s security and interests Obama’s foreign policy has been.
Let’s review how Obama got himself and this country into this mess. He came into office as a moralizing internationalist, a fervent champion of international law and multilateralism as necessary restraints on an America exceptional only for its xenophobic swagger and exploitative dominance abroad. He promised to restore democracy, make efforts to reach out to our enemies, and rein in those unilateral, ally-scorning, U.N.-hating Republicans and their itchy trigger fingers. His foreign policy philosophy was encapsulated in his 2007 Foreign Affairs article, in which he promised to use America’s power “not in the spirit of a patron but in the spirit of a partner––a partner mindful of his own imperfections.”
Starting from the assumption that America’s problems in the Middle East were the consequence of our neo-imperialist meddling and arrogance, Obama anxiously stroked the esteem of our enemies, flattering Islam in Cairo in 2009 and bowing low to the Saudi King even as he banished from the White House the bust of Winston Churchill, history’s most famous enemy of appeasement. He purged our military and security establishment of any mention of Islamic jihad, and designated one of the worst jihadist attacks since 9/11, the Fort Hood massacre, as “workplace violence.”
When the so-called Arab Spring exploded in December 2010, he recycled the stale left-wing narrative that American support for autocrats was why other nations despised us, and threw American support and legitimacy behind the gangs of jihadists who were the driving force of the revolutions. Egged on by NATO allies and military pygmies France and England, he used American military power to overthrow Libya’s Ghaddafi, even though that bizarre thug had renounced his nuclear weapons program and was suppressing the jihadists of eastern Libya. He abandoned the reliable Hosni Mubarak in Egypt to empower the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood, and then dithered when a military coup drove Morsi from power, unable to forthrightly admit his error and support for an anti-American, anti-Semitic, terrorism-supporting, jihadist gang. And don’t forget, all the while he played footsie with Turkey’s Islamizing, dissident-suppressing, and Israel-hating Prime Minister Erdogan, and gratified bien pensant academics and other lefties by periodically scolding Israel, the left-wing scapegoat for all that’s wrong in the Middle East. Finally, and most important, he continued the charade of “outreach” and sanctions with Iran, serially kicking that nuclear can down the road even as the centrifuges spin and the enriched uranium piles up.
In this dismal catalogue we see the received wisdom and creaking dogma of internationalism. Problems arise from Western imperialism, colonialism, and interference in other countries. The lack of economic development and political freedom accounts for violence and disorder, while Islamic intolerance, supremacism, and theologized violence are mere epiphenomena of those material causes. Summits and shuttle diplomacy and various other diplomatic gabfests are the way to resolve crises and forestall conflict. International institutions and “conventions” that subordinate national interests to global needs and goals are the way to create peace by creating and enforcing “international norms.” American power is problematic and stained by its history, and so the U.S. must be diffident, humble, and accommodating not just to our allies, but also to our enemies.
Most important, for Obama, all this shop-worn idealism provided legitimacy for behavior that is driven by raw politics––the success of his own presidency and that of his party–– and, along with the bumbling John Kerry, that reveals an astonishing incompetence, if not outright stupidity, about how the most powerful country in the world and source of global order must conduct itself in a dangerous world of hard men who aren’t impressed by outreach, flattery, or prostrations of grief, but only by mind-concentrating action. Is it any wonder that every major world leader and two-bit jihadist gang like the Mullahs in Iran take Obama’s lunch money?
So here we are, with a disaster brewing in Syria because this president shot off his mouth about “Assad must go” and “red line” and “change my calculus,” empty rhetoric unconnected to any thoughtful foreign policy strategy, but useful for pacifying his base and the internationalist do-gooders about his commitment to “responsibility to protect” and the international conventions against chemical weapons. Desperate to escape the railroad tracks he tied himself onto, Obama challenged Congress to vote up or down on military strikes. Then like Dudley Do-Right, Russia’s Putin, seizing on an off-the-cuff, half-baked remark by John Kerry, rescued Obama with a spurious diplomatic solution the main effect of which was to elevate Putin into the major power in the region. After all, Obama had struck out in the U.N., had no international material support, was facing repudiation in the House of Representatives, and had two-thirds of Americans opposed to military strikes. What he needed was some breathing space, which Putin’s shrewd move provided for him, at the same time he gave his ally Assad more time to destroy his enemies and squirrel away his stockpiles.
With that background, we can examine last night’s 15-minute speech, which simply recycled the same incoherence and bluster Obama has been trading in for the past few weeks.
Sentimentalism: Obama spent many words on describing the horrors of the gas attack, even implausibly linking chemical weapons to the Nazi use of Zyklon-B to murder Jews. And he invited Americans to watch the videos, which means we are to obscure the rational calculations of means and ends to secure our interests and security, with harrowing images of suffering children. Of course, artillery shells inflict the same sort of random and indiscriminate death and dismemberment. So we still are left with no argument why one sort of death and suffering is worse than another, why 1000 dead are so much more heinous than the other 99,000. And given that we know Assad used chemical weapons in June, the question left hanging is, why now? Short answer: political expediency.
Deterrence: Obama claimed the use of chemical weapons was a “danger to our security” because if Assad is left unpunished, “other tyrants” will use them too. So why didn’t we roll down that slippery slope after Saddam Hussein used them to kill many thousands more than Assad did? Why not after Egypt’s Gamal Nasser used poison gas against Yemenis in 1967? They were both unpunished for these violations of “international norms.” As for Obama’s fear about Syria’s handing these weapons off to terrorists, that contingency didn’t seem to hinder his bitter opposition to the Iraq war, against a brutal autocrat that had used chemical weapons and was friendly to various terrorist outfits. And given that opposition, which continued when he became a Senator and vocally opposed the ultimately successful “surge” of forces in Iraq, it is remarkably shameless for Obama to try and sell Congress on backing his policy by saying that America “acts more effectively when we stand together.”
Worse yet, given Kerry’s description of the proposed strike as an “incredibly small limited kind of effort,” and Obama’s vow that “I will not put American troops on the ground,” and given how blatantly he telegraphed his intentions to Assad, giving him time to hide his stockpiles, the president effectively drains the threat of any serious deterrent value. If Obama really believes that we need to deter future offenders, and that the use of chemical weapons is a sui generis form of weaponry, then he should be proposing a massive bombing campaign to destroy Assad’s regime, and the insertion of troops to secure the chemical weapons so that they don’t end up in the hands of jihadists.
As for Obama’s remarks in his speech that if we don’t punish this brutality against Muslims we will create more terrorists, this psychology of terrorist motivation has long been shown by events to be incredible. This buys in to the specious jihadist rhetoric––designed to exploit Western guilt and self-loathing––that war against the infidel enemies of Islam sanctioned by Islamic theology is merely a reaction to Western sins against Muslims. This pretext should be thrown in the dustbin along with the delusion that the majority of Syrians “want to live in peace and freedom,” and that only a minority of “extremists” is among those fighting Assad.
The Russian ploy: Now we come to heart of the matter. Like his boss, John Kerry spoke without thinking about a possible resolution that did not involve force. Putin jumped on this loophole and endorsed a resolution involving inspections of Assad’s stockpiles, with the promise of their destruction. And Obama, seeing a way out of the political straitjacket he managed to put on all by himself, in turn jumped on Putin’s suggestions, calling them “encouraging signs” wrought by his “credible threat of military action.”
This is the most politically shameless and self-serving part of the whole sorry affair. “Incredibly small” military strikes telegraphed for more than a week are unlikely to scare Assad into surrendering his weapons. But Russia’s ploy and Obama’s buy in served the interests of everybody involved except the American people. Russia and Assad know that a “diplomatic pause” to ponder and discuss and workshop the whole regime of “inspections” is nothing other than a way to buy time and give Obama an excuse to delay action. The logistics of an inspections process are incredibly complex, and certainly will not begin while a war is raging in Syria. Like North Korea, Iraq under Hussein, and Iran today, the process can be gamed with delays and duplicity.
But Obama benefits by the need to “postpone a vote while we pursue this diplomatic path,” which includes a fruitless trek to the U.N. to secure a Security Council resolution that will never pass. This whole process could take months, if not years. Just remember how Saddam Hussein, two-thirds of his country’s airspace under the control of his enemies, played WMD whack-a-mole with the U.N. inspectors before simply kicking them out of the country. This means Obama’s promise “to respond if diplomacy fails” is an empty threat, especially since Putin has made taking a military strike off the table a condition for the whole deal to proceed. But Obama, supported by his flunkies in the press, will sell the narrative that his tough resolve brought Assad to the negotiating table and solved this crisis. Meanwhile Putin comes off as the region’s main power broker.
So Obama is likely off the hook, time will be wasted with running down this phony “diplomatic” solution, Syrians will keep dying, the jihadists will keep gaining invaluable battlefield experience, Iran will keep spinning its centrifuges, and American prestige will sink even lower in the estimation of our friends and enemies alike. File last night’s speech as one more piece of evidence demonstrating Obama’s foreign policy malfeasance.
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