Tag Archives: obama

Karsten Erzinger: Where is America?

As I continue to read about the various crises that have recently erupted around the world, two questions keep popping into my head: “Where is the United States? What will their response be?” The answers to those questions seem to be “nowhereandnothing.” While Barack Obama has gone to great lengths to soften America’s foreign policy since becoming President, Obama’s response to recent events have taken this approach to a new extreme. This does not bode well for American allies and for the international community at large. Power abhors a vacuum and if the United States continues to remove itself from international conflicts and shrink its influence around the world, the vacuum left will likely be filled by unfriendly regimes and other bad actors.

Surveying the current landscape it’s not hard to see that the bad actors of the world have become emboldened. The examples are numerous; the Ukraine-Russia conflict, where Russian-backed rebels seem to have shot down a passenger plane, ISIS in Iraq, Israel-Hamas conflict, Iran steadily progressing towards a nuclear bomb, the endless killings in Syria, Boko-Haram, the turmoil in Libya – the list goes on. The United States, under President Obama’s leadership, has been content to outsource and minimize their role in these conflicts by “leading from behind”, calling on vague “international responses”, using “hashtag diplomacy,” or by flat out ignoring the problems. Most recently, American efforts to intervene in the Hamas-Israel crisis has been so ineffective that even liberal-leaning media outlets are mocking the efforts.

As shocking as some of these events have been, they are likely to become the new normal if the United States continues its passive and reluctant approach to foreign affairs. Everyone knows the US wields a large stick, but if they are unwilling to even threaten the use of it, it serves no purpose. The world’s problems cannot be solved solely by economic sanctions or by carefully worded statements delivered via a teleprompter, despite what the President seems to think. The continued reluctance of the United States to engage in a serious manner on these issues presents major problems for those reliant upon them for protection and support.

President Obama’s foreign policy approach has largely failed. He has alienated allies, emboldened enemies and lessened America’s power and influence throughout the world. One can only hope that President Obama has ability to recognize this and implement some badly needed course correction.

The Hustings

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J Dan Aiken: The US is right to aid Iraq

US President Barack Obama made the right choice in providing military assistance to Iraq’s troubled government. Putting aside the question of whether America should have engaged in Iraqi nation-building in the first place, the reality is that the actions of the past decade have already occurred and that America must nurture the democracy it has helped to conceive.

The insurgent group ISIS does not respect the rule of law, democracy, the conventions of war, or even human life. Iraqi soldiers and civilians captured by this repugnant group have been dehumanized for propaganda purposes and summarily executed. This group cannot exist in a democratic Iraq. And while ISIS must be stopped and brought to justice there are clear concerns that Iraq’s government cannot resolve the crisis.

Iraq’s government has not developed as quickly as many had hoped. The incumbent prime minister has been ineffective in building a unity coalition among sectarian groups. It’s now up to Iraqis to determine their own government, while it’s the responsibility of their friends and neighbors in the international community to provide counsel and assistance where it is needed. Prime Minister al-Maliki has asked for help to protect Iraqi citizens and the country’s fragile democracy. Considering the barbarism of ISIS, it would be a stunning repudiation of America’s own efforts to decline al-Maliki’s request.

For the US, providing military assistance to Iraq’s fragile government may seem unsavory, but so too is the disgraceful alternative. Nearly 4,500 Americans were killed in Iraq over the span of a decade-long fight for a free democracy with liberty for all citizens. There can be no greater insult to the sacrifices and memory of these soldiers than to allow the progress made possible by their bloodshed to be undone. At the same time, the Obama administration is embroiled in a scandal about its failures to adequately care for returned and injured veterans. Imagine veterans’ frustration in the face of a reality in which their government does not properly care for them following military service, and in which their government allows that service to be rendered all but purposeless.

Iraq’s request is reasonable: reconnaissance flights, tactical advisers, and perhaps limited air support to eradicate a barbaric horde of homicidal would-be theocrats. For a country that has already given thousands of its sons and daughters and billions of dollars, this action is a drop in the bucket to preserve all that has been gained. What is necessary to protect the innocent from the reprehensible is infrequently ideal; yet in this case, it is a necessity nonetheless.

The Hustings

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Tom Stringham: Obama’s clueless in Iraq, but who can blame him?

Chaos has broken out in Iraq again, and if there’s blame to go around, the President of the United States deserves a portion. His decision to evacuate Iraq of combat troops in 2011 has enabled a resurgence of brutal Sunni extremists, who now control most of the country’s northwest.

But while it’s true, as commentators have been shouting, that Obama’s foreign policy instincts are mediocre at best, he deserves the credit of noting that he is playing one of the trickiest geopolitical games in recent history—perhaps in the history of the United States.

Obama came into office while the American engagement in Iraq was still ongoing. The war was extraordinarily unpopular at home and abroad, and there was something to be said for bringing the troops home. On the other hand, the young Iraqi government was untested, and ran the risk of eventual collapse without American combat assistance. However, on yet another hand, the state was as stable as it had been since 2003, and was becoming stabler. American and Iraqi troops had routed the insurgents and killed their leadership. Answers were not clear in 2011, however it looks to us now.

Obama still faces an orgy of contradictions. American interests are certainly to maintain the integrity of the democratic Iraqi state it left behind. But to rout ISIS once more, the US would likely need to send in ground troops, which would make for political chaos back home. However, if the US doesn’t send in the army, it will appear to be relying on Iran to fight the Sunni rebels. An alliance with Iran, which sponsors Bashar Assad, Hezbollah and radical Shia groups across the Middle East, would be another nightmare for the US.

What’s more is that Obama is dealing with a marvellously incompetent leader in Nouri Al-Maliki. Any aid to his government in supplies or weapons will likely come to nothing while he is Prime Minister. But an attempt to force him out of office would be difficult and harmful to the United States’ reputation, and would mean American culpability for whatever chaos a new Iraqi leader would inevitably bring about.

None of this is to mention the powderkegs nearby: an unstable Afghanistan, an emboldened Hamas in the West Bank and Syria, with its ongoing civil war.

Yes, Obama has been shown unequal to the task of navigating the Middle East. But who on earth is equal to it?

The Hustings

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Tom Stringham: Why is Obama pulling out of Afghanistan now?

President Obama offered an articulate defense of his foreign policy at the US Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. yesterday, asserting that his administration is walking a wise middle road between interventionism and isolationism. Meanwhile, changing circumstances and shifting US priorities in the Middle East are making prognostication difficult for those who hope for stability in the region.

The Taliban is proving as relevant as ever, nearly 13 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan. Currently the organization is situated in Pakistan, where it is tolerated by the state’s Islamic authorities.

Yesterday a major Taliban faction, made up of Mehsud tribesmen, broke off from the organization over ideological and religious differences, making for the first major rift within the movement since it was formed in 2007.

According to observers, the split will sharply weaken the Taliban’s presence in Pakistan, and could make them more agreeable to peace talks. There is a possibility of further defections from the main organization. A weakened Taliban in Pakistan would ease tension in Afghanistan, where the US still has 32,000 troops on the ground.

But this blow to the Taliban comes at a strange time: on Tuesday, President Obama announced a schedule for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. By the end of 2016, all US combat troops will be removed from the country. In his speech at West Point yesterday, Obama indicated a preference for smaller-scale operations in unstable countries like Afghanistan.

Government leaders and analysts in Afghanistan seem to think that the US has reneged on its promise to stay until the insurgency was fully under control. The two non-incumbent presidential candidates had both expressed their intention to sign a security deal with the US that would have seen US troops stay in Afghanistan for at least the next decade.

Now the future is less certain than ever. While the Taliban appears more vulnerable, so too does the unstable Afghan government, which will soon lose its large US security force.

It’s possible that Obama is acting on information the rest of us don’t have. But it is also plausible that he is legacy-building, by pulling war-weary America out of Afghanistan before he leaves office in 2017.

A collapse of the young Afghan state in the wake of the coming US exit would be a tragedy—especially if it happened to be the result of Pres. Obama’s concern for his own image.

The Hustings

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