Beyond Bush and Obama: America’s place in the world

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive in Greece. ICYMI this humanitarian crisis has been going on for years now. (AP Photo / Petros Giannakouris)

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive in Greece. ICYMI this humanitarian crisis has been going on for years now. (AP Photo / Petros Giannakouris)

Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 on being — in many ways, but most especially in regard to foreign policy — the anti-George W. Bush. As the humanitarian and refugee crisis pouring out of the Middle East we abandoned under Obama continues unabated, the question now is what the anti-Obama foreign policy looks like.

The famous photo of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a beach in Turkey has focused attention on the catastrophe in the boy’s native Syria. But as heartbreaking as that image is, to be shocked by it requires one to have ignored the reports from that country’s four-year-old civil war. I mean the reports of the Assad regime’s repeated use of not only chemical weapons, but such barbaric “conventional” weapons as the barrels of nails, glass, rebar and other shrapnel rained down on civilian areas. It’s to ignore that scores of refugees have been dying on capsized boats in the Mediterranean, while those who survive are flooding across European borders by the tens of thousands.

Meanwhile, the debate Obama oversaw regarding Syria is illustrative of his disastrous foreign policy more broadly.

Obama famously (and during a re-election campaign that relied heavily on promoting foreign-policy successes) drew an ill-advised “red line” at the use of chemical weapons by Assad, even though some 100,000 civilians had already been killed by that point. Then, after a year passed with zero effort by the administration to prepare Congress or our allies for a possible response in the event chemical weapons were used, Obama was caught flat-footed when his tough talk didn’t dissuade Assad from crossing the line. The president first said he didn’t need congressional authority to act, then backed down and belatedly tried to win congressional support for an effort his own aides described as “just muscular enough not to get mocked” and “just enough to be more than symbolic.” In the end, he couldn’t make a credible case for any action whatsoever; even those of us who recognized inaction would have consequences could not find a reason to trust that Obama’s plan was worth supporting. His “just enough” approach looked like the road to Libya, a land that already stood in lawless ruin by then. The administration’s subsequent approach to countering ISIS has been equally uninspiring.

All of which points to the question I mentioned at the outset. If Bush’s full invasion of Iraq is on one end of the spectrum, and Obama’s half-hearted effort to avoid being mocked (which itself has been largely abandoned) is on the other, and both are unacceptable, where do we go from here?

It is worth noting there were other options. We failed to identify early on the Syrian rebels who might have been worth backing and to arm them, leaving them to be defeated not only by Assad’s forces but by ISIS, the “JV team” that has risen in the vacuum there and in neighboring Iraq (thus compounding our failure to put real effort into negotiating the authority to leave a real residual force in Iraq to help its fledgling government keep the peace.) We failed to build an international consensus about what to do, much less a coalition to do it, so that we wouldn’t have been working alone; that failure has instead led the likes of Russia and Iran to fill the void in ways that only make matters worse. We have failed to employ a slate of sanctions of the type that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Oh, and speaking of Iran: We negotiated a nuclear deal that not only lacks teeth for its main goal of preventing Tehran from getting the bomb, but we are giving the regime billions of dollars that, as none other than Obama himself acknowledges, will be used to support people like Assad and their killing machines.

The leading names on each side of the current presidential election from its start, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, are notable for their association with the two foreign-policy schools of fecklessness and recklessness. To date, neither they nor any of their competitors has outlined a credible foreign-policy path that avoids those twin perils. (Oh, I almost forgot: On this, like everything else, Donald Trump would make it all better by dint of his sheer awesomeness.)

We deserve better than that. Rather than the one-minute bumper-stickerism of the debates we usually get, we deserve a debate that forces candidates to wrestle with these issues in ways that show the thoughtfulness, or lack thereof, with which they would address them. We deserve for hard questions to be asked of Clinton about the fruits of the foreign policy she oversaw, of Bush about the familiar cohort of advisers he’d likely bring back to Washington with him, of Trump about whether he really knows enough about the issues to have something more than “gotcha” accusations for those who press him, and so on with the rest of the bunch.

We have seen what happens when the U.S. is too willing to lead on its own, as well as when the U.S. is too willing to stand by and watch. Our consciences should demand something better than what we’ve seen.

Reader Comments 0

52 comments
RafeHollister
RafeHollister

I was shocked, but glad, to see that even the government approved media was putting the blame for the refugee crisis on Obama.  Maybe they are finally waking up to his ineptitude and fecklessness.   Even Biden is out complaining about the plight of the middle class; wonder who he thinks has been in charge of the economy the last 7 years.

Juanx
Juanx

Just try to imagine the possibilities of the power of the people if these Syrians had rushed the leaders to over throw them as they rushed the border guardsmen in Europe, maybe they would not have had to leave. I was very surprised to see the energy they exhibited when boarding trains and demanding that they be taken to Germany instead of Greece. Something is not being told to the average American on why we have not had a hand in getting them out of Syria as McCain had insisted. McCain no longer talks to the press about this. I think he has learned more than he is willing to reveal to go up against this administration, and has decided to let Europe and the Middle East take care of their own. About time. 

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Much of this is happening because Obama drew a red line without being committed to it, and because he said Assad had to go without being committed to it, and because he continues to allow Assad to have and use chemical weapons despite his magical pronouncements that Syria would no longer be able to use them.  

Obama demonstrated that he is weak and could be easily pushed around.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Knowing full well that Obama lacked commitment to follow through on his "red line", I was SHOCKED when he drew it.

How many people besides Chris Wallace were unaware of Cheney's desire to go after Syria, Iran, AND Iraq in one fell swoop early on?

Not me.

It was at that point, GWB put Cheney in the dugout.

It was Bush that said "Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy."

Well, witnessing what's taking place today, Cheney had foresight. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

@FIGMO2 Being wrong in just about everything he ever supported or opposed is a strange definition of"foresight."

lvg
lvg

Kyle, Trump and GOP can't wait to get troops on the ground killing those nasty Mooslims and getting US tied up in another civil war it cnnot win

Dusty2
Dusty2

Well, I am sorry to see that Kyle has once again let his dislike of the Bush family creep into his writing.  Seems to think that Jeb is but a copy of his brother and father.  That is wrong thinking. Kyle is correct in thinking that JEB would come with the same  ethical, honest, intelligent, experienced life as that of his family but in his own way.   We  need a president with strong convictions.


As to WHAT exactly we should do in the Middle East, that is difficult with the nebulous actions changing daily. The surging migrant problem in Europe grows daily besides the military problems.  We need closer ties with Israel as they are close, allies and wish to survive.  They are not treated as such by this administration.  .. 


I do hope that surveying Republican candidates closely, Kyle will soon see that there is really only one well rounded strong  choice and that is Jeb Bush.  The brash words of Trump and his business successes may be appealing but they are not good presidential material.  BRASH is not what we need now.  THINKING is.   Americans realize that more and more each day as we try to keep America's place in the world while it seems to be slipping away.

bu2
bu2

@Dusty2


Here, here!  We need an adult, not someone who thoughtlessly follows principals (Obama) or speaks loudly and carries no stick (Trump) or someone who's just flat out incompetent (Clinton).

King Tut 0603
King Tut 0603

This is the quote from the article you posted "One U.S. official who has been briefed on the options on Syria said he believed the White House would seek a level of intensity "just muscular enough not to get mocked" but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia."  

Do you really want to take that to the bank? 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

The world should beware of a geek bearing gifts and apologies for all.  


If all this is left to Jeb or Hillary, the world is in more trouble than they know. 

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Obama did the right thing.  We have never been at war with Syria and we don't want to go.  On the flip side, there are 16 civil wars going on.  Are we going to intervene in all of them? Why is this one special?  Because we started a war with the country next door, its our job to fix Syria's problems even though Syria and Russia s asked us to stay out of it.


Its a fool's errand to try to intervene in civil wars.  You can't win.  You just end up installing the government of the team you picked who is them hated and it happens all over again.


If you want to send aid, fine.  Intervening with force is something I would ever condone, because they need to solve this themselves.  We did the right thing.  The sausage is being made.  If you don't want to watch, then stop watching.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@JFMcNamara

Hope you like sausage.  European countries might eat most of it for us, but there will be plenty to go around.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@LilBarryBailout @JFMcNamara , as opposed to what other plan?  Go to war with Syria and be stuck in a quagmire there while also alienating Russia?  Go start another war we can't win because we are hated by half the people there who will resist us until we leave or they all die?


Maybe the answer is that it isn't really our problem.  I'm not against providing aid, but I'm 100% against going to war there.  The aid is helping eat the sausage, is it not?

PudHead
PudHead

@JFMcNamara 

“JFMcNamara

Obama did the right thing.”

Yep, by pulling out we created a power vacuum that created ISIS, so if you are an American hating Muslim, he did the right thing….Since ISIS has be killing for the fun of it, this has created the immigrant problem in Europe. So if you believe in creating millions of refugees with no place to go, yep, Obama did the right thing….. So far I am not seeing any good here… But it IS his legacy….

 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@JFMcNamara I believe it was Obama calling on Assad to step down about 3 years ago and predicting that his days were numbered.  Obama drew the red line promising war if it was violated. 


I agree we shouldn't be involved in Syria's civil war, but if you want to stay out, you can't do so when you have a dog in the fight.



JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@PudHead @JFMcNamara  , That was the right thing to do, and this is completely different problem than ISIS.  We are taking care of ISIS.  ISIS is only a small faction in Syria and its a civil war that is taking place.  Its two completely separate issues.


Also, were we going to stay in Iraq forever?  Were we going to invade Syria?  This was inevitable.  It sucks to watch it play out, but we need to let them fight and reach stability without us.  That's the only way it holds.  Send aid for those caught in the cross fire, but we can't tell others what to do.  We can only make it worse.

bu2
bu2

@JFMcNamara @LilBarryBailout

The idea was to arm the moderate rebels and weaken Assad enough that he leaves and his party negotiates with the opposition.  We allowed him to believe (rightfully so) that he could do anything he wanted with Iranian, Hezbollah and Russian help.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

The world was more peaceful and more stable 6.5 years ago.

Fact.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Iraq was stable, by Obama's own reckoning.  Syria wasn't in civil war.  Lybia was stable.  Ukraine was stable.  ISIS didn't exist.

Fact is, the world has significantly gone to hell on Obama's watch.

Caius
Caius

Definitions.  Illegal aliens. Refugees.


The "refugees" pouring into Europe today will be called "illegal aliens" tomorrow.

bu2
bu2

@Caius

Assuming they aren't terrorists infiltrating.

Dusty2
Dusty2

@Claver @LilBarryBailout @Finn-McCool 


Saddam used gas on a Kurd village and most of them died.  The CIA reported that he also had atomic resources.  Bush took no chances and Congress agreed that such as that was unacceptable.  They would have used them on us! Bush believed in protection.  


Some of you  have a short memory.   

Dusty2
Dusty2

@Finn-McCool 


Getting rid of dictators does not come cheap.  But the dictator is gone before he did more damage.  His freed people hung him.

bitcoin
bitcoin

A week later the truth comes out about that drowned Syrian boy. 

Rather than fleeing imminent danger—the family were actually living in Turkey, where the father has worked for the past three years. Lured by letters from a relative in Canada the father risked their lives in a small boat hoping to blend in with other would-be migrants headed for rich Western countries.

http://dailycaller.com/2015/09/07/story-begins-to-unravel-about-drowned-syrian-boy/


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@bitcoin As I wrote, that photo was neither the first nor the best reason to care about what's happening.

Dusty2
Dusty2

@bitcoin 


What a cheap version of "facts". A man trying to save his family and loses most of them.   They came from a besieged Syrian town and the father had tried several times to get them to a safer place.  He had a relative in Canada who might help them.  Now he stays in Turkey with a remnant of his family. 


How sad that some one would take a tragedy and try to write it up as a criminal act.  I guess they get their "pieces of silver"  just like other less ethical people.  

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

The problems in the middle east should be solved by those living in the middle east.

GMFA
GMFA

Yes, it is too bad we started  A WAR THAT DESTABILIZED the Middle East and now is putting a great strain on Europe. Lets talk about taking in refugees and watch Republican head pop. The candidates spew hate towards "anchor baby's" and show little heart towards allowing immigrants finding any way towards citizenship. It seems like you are trying real hard to put the problem on Obama's watch instead of Bush. Nice try though.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@GMFA If the war destabilized the Middle East, what about Obama's effort to remove Assad, Mubarek, and Khaddafi, and the effort to prop up the politically unpopular Morsi?  I think he is more to blame than Bush, Bush only destabilized one country not three.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Our leaders in Washington collectively don't care one whit what happens to people as long as they and their backers can profit off of it. Stability in the Middle East? Can't have that, have to sell weapons to all parties, then sell them more when they run out. Refugees? Huge opportunities to skim or outright steal from the public Treasuries. Health care deform? Corruption on steroids, taxpayer indemnified risk securing profits, and protective laws prohibiting free market solutions. Climate change? Tax and extort. Abortions? Sell those baby parts! Fund that tissue research! Presidential candidates? All the substantive candidates get squeezed out by the media and parties leaving only the corrupt and the clowns to choose from.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

I got an idea - why not have the government focus on defunding Planned Parenthood?

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Eye wonder

Maybe if the government wasn't so focused on things that are none of their business, like health care and snuffing out the lives of unborn children, they could do a better job of building infrastructure and keeping the world from catching fire.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Kyle’s recitation of Obama’s foreign policy “failure” is nothing more than the usual political drivel.For some action to be a failure requires (a) that it was a duty of the one who is blamed to act; (b) that it was possible to achieve the result in question. If we cited every bad thing that happened in the world during any President’s administration, no doubt we could make a long list of “failures of foreign policy” of every president

Let’s take an example: “We failed to identify early on the Syrian rebels who might have been worth backing and to arm them, …” Is there evidence that we could have identified them? And how is that a failure of POLICY? Did the President instruct his experts not to identify such rebels?

Then, of course, Kyle lists the Iran deal as a failure, when it is a major victory.  Only when lying about the conditions of the deal one can claim otherwise.

straker
straker

"and both are unacceptable"


What we must finally accept is that we are NOT God's gift to the world, we CANNOT save the whole world and we MUST NOT get involved in any more useless Middle-East wars.


These refugees are going to Europe, and Europe must take care of them.


We're already saddled with over 12 million illegals from Mexico and other Central and South American countries.




Caius
Caius

"Our consciences should demand something better than what we’ve seen."

Agree.  But.  Maybe it is called being coarsened by our own society with its set of values.  The photo of Aylan Kurdi is telling.  But so are 20 kids shot down in Sandy Hook Elementary.  If we do not correct the first we will probably not correct the latest. If we accept certain behavior within our own society we will accept similar, or worse behavior in other societies.  If we do not have the will to fix "us", we will not have the will to fix "them".



Claver
Claver

Europe needs to step up and do a lot more both in the Middle East and with Russia before we commit more resources to dealing with either one.  That is their backyard and events there impact them more directly than us.  If they are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices first, we should not do it for them.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Basically we just need to get out of the region altogether.. We are far less dependent on their oil which has always been our interest there anyways. And that trend will continue.


They need to clean up their own mess and decide if they want to be a part of the 21st century or the 7th. No amount of American bombs or drones will make that decision for them.

332-206
332-206

Well, here's a column that needs a wider audience.