The botched surge in Afghanistan, where his own intelligence people had told him there were barely a 100 Al Qaeda fighters left, had been an attempt to escape Al Qaeda.
Not the terrorists themselves, but the issues they raised.
September 11 had disrupted the multicultural consensus by raising serious questions about immigration and Islam. It had also thrown away the consensus that the collapse of the USSR had made American military power obsolete. Obama had come to revive these consensuses and as recently as the last election dismissed Romney as a reactionary warmonger who didn’t understand the new world order.
Obama had declared victory over an undefeated enemy. He had passed off a strategic withdrawal as a victory. His wars, victories and withdrawals were a series of blatant lies that are catching up with him.
His administration tried to blame the takeover of Libya by Islamist militias after his disastrous regime change intervention on a YouTube video. But there isn’t a YouTube video big enough to blame ISIS on.
Obama was determined to go on pretending that ISIS didn’t exist. Even while drones were hitting Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen and Pakistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Caliph got a free pass from our drones and our custody. When ISIS took Fallujah, he dismissed it as a JV team. Now he’s trying to build a coalition, but his air strikes are a belated response to a threat that he should have been on top of all along.
Even without boots on the ground, the United States could have continued suppression operations against Al Qaeda in Iraq after the withdrawal. Drones would have ruled out the problem of Americans being tried in Iraq, the supposed reason for the total withdrawal.
A responsible administration wouldn’t have had to scramble for a strategy at the last minute because it would have been on top of the problem all along. But Obama cared more about being able to check the Iraq box and the Al Qaeda box in the election than about stopping the rise of Al Qaeda.
Despite claims of bad intelligence, Obama did know what was happening. Last year Iraq had already been preparing for WMD attacks by ISIS by buying some expensive gear from us. Meanwhile Obama was acting as if the real issue was how much aid to provide to ISIS’ Free Syrian Army allies.
In 2006, John Kerry told students that if they weren’t smart, they would “get stuck in Iraq”. Now he and his boss, two veteran anti-war activists, are stuck in a war in Iraq that they desperately tried to avoid. They are stuck cobbling together a coalition of the willing for a war and trying to stabilize Iraq. History is repeating itself a second time as farce as the two politicians who were Bush’s biggest critics are stuck doing his job.
Their only comfort is blaming Bush, but this isn’t Bush’s war. It’s their war.
George W. Bush left behind a far more stable Iraq in which Al Qaeda had been pushed to the side. Bush had made his mistakes, but unlike Obama, he had not been a prisoner of a rigid ideology.
In the Senate, Obama had insisted that the surge in Iraq couldn’t possibly work. He went on denying it past the point of absurdity. In Iraq and everywhere else, Obama had put his ideology ahead of reality. Senator Obama had believed firmly that Sunnis and Shiites were only quarreling because of the American “occupation”. Once the United States left, they would stop fighting among themselves.
Out of its opposition to the Iraq War, the Democratic Party evolved the claim that Al Qaeda had never existed in Iraq until we invaded it. As an implicit corollary, it would stop existing if we left Iraq.
Like Carter, Obama didn’t just have a different strategy, he had a different worldview. On the surface, Obama continued many of Bush’s existing War on Terror policies. The real gap was in his worldview.
The maligned Axis of Evil line had localized the problem of Islamic terrorism in state sponsorship by enemy states. It was a flawed and incomplete explanation, but far preferable to the liberal foreign policy assessment which viewed such terrorism as a reaction to American foreign policy in the Middle East.
To Bush, Al Qaeda was an active force that had to be confronted or it would attack us. To Obama, Al Qaeda was a reactive force that was responding to something that we did, whether it was supporting Mubarak or making YouTube videos.
The fault was not in the Jihadists; it was in ourselves.
The Arab Spring was Obama’s equivalent of regime change in Iraq. It was a big grandiose program for changing the Middle East by changing its governments, but where Bush had sought regime change for enemy terror states, Obama wanted regime change for American allies.
In 2002, Obama had delivered a speech in which he called on Bush to stay out of Iraq and instead “Fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people and suppressing dissent.”
Once in office, Obama pursued that program. Regimes fell and chaos spread. Terrorist groups became armies taking over entire countries. The Middle East began to burn.
Al Qaeda in Iraq had been a murderous band of suicide bombers before the Arab Spring. Like the Jihadist forces in Libya that now hold Benghazi and Tripoli, the Arab Spring made it an army.
Al Qaeda in Iraq was a vicious sociopathic JV team before the Arab Spring. Now it’s an Islamic State.
The media which was complicit in the celebration of the Arab Spring won’t tell the truth about what went wrong. Obama certainly won’t.
Until a few months ago, he was pretending that there wasn’t a problem in Iraq. It’s anyone’s guess how long he’ll go on pretending that there isn’t a problem in Libya. The Yazidis forced him to turn to air strikes and he’ll keep them up long enough for everyone to forget about Iraq. At least that’s the plan.
The problem with the plan is that ISIS has no intention of letting him forget.
What the left has persistently refused to understand is that it only takes one side to make a war. And that side isn’t the United States. Chris Hedges’ facile “War is a force that gives us meaning” isn’t true of America, but it is true of ISIS. It’s true of all the Jihadists.
The Islamic world is seeking to reclaim its identity through a Jihad against the West. This Jihad is the force that gives it meaning. Ignoring it is not an option. Blaming American foreign policy is as foolish as the dog that tries to bite its own tail.
Obama has been running away from Al Qaeda and now it has caught him. He imagines that he can escape with a few air strikes, a few speeches and a pivot to something else, but it won’t be that simple. This is a war that cannot be escaped or avoided, speechified or shrugged off.
Saturday Night Live routines won’t deter the Jihad. It can be killed, but it can’t be ignored.
As Churchill famously said of Munich, "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war."
Obama chose appeasement. He chose denial. He chose the Arab Spring. He chose the golf course. He chose to ignore the problem.
Now he has a war on his hands.
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