Sadly, it has become so fashionable to blame the US President when anything goes wrong that many critics of the Obama Administration have grown so terribly short-sighted and narrow-minded in their thinking they are blinded by their need to assign blame. Revising history before the book has been closed on 2014, there is an attempt to frame President Obama’s delayed response to the Islamic State as a sign of his incompetence instead of a prudent foreign affairs policy.
Where the Obama Administration has made its share of mistakes and been credited for accomplishments government could have achieved, it has also been too often falsely criticized for failures it could not prevent. We criticize people and decisions in order to correct mistakes and do better when facing similar situations. Healthy criticism is, after all, a part of the human learning process.
Although there were plenty of individuals calling for action against the Islamic State months before the group marched across Iraq and seized enough territory to expand its so-called “caliphate” into two countries, the United States was dealing with the escalating Ukraine Crisis. A potential war with Russia meant the US had to ignore other unfolding foreign crises in order to be prepared to engage the Russian military around the world.
One among many militant threats within the Middle East, the Islamic State did nearly consume Iraq and threaten the stability of the region, but the US recommitting significant military assets to prop up the corrupt, failing Iraqi government and military would have meant other crises would have to be ignored. Considering the tertiary threat the Islamic State represented for much of the world, the US could not afford to respond to the Islamic State without willing partners.
Given the Arab Spring Revolutions and the persistent threat of globalized terrorism, the US needs to engage the Middle East in a very selective and purposeful manner in order to avoid wasting finite resources needed to address an increasing number of security threats around the world. To do this, the United States needs willing and able regional partners that will not create liabilities for America, i.e. the US can play a support role when it comes to combating threats to the Peoples of the Middle East.
Unfortunately, a large part of the reason Iraq was nearly overrun by the Islamic State was due to the US propping up the Iraq military throughout the entire Iraq War. In other words, the Iraq military never learned to function without the US doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. In truth, much of the region had learned over decades to turn to the US when a security threat needed addressed instead of addressing mutual security interests as a region.
Regrettably, America’s willingness to fight the wars of other countries had created an incentive so perverse that many government officials were even compelled to support terrorist organizations to serve their interests. Because the Obama Administration did not immediately eliminate the Islamic State threat, the Iraqi government was forced to work toward political reform. In turn, the nations of the Middle East are now taking a multitude of steps to address the Islamic State as well as other security threats.
That said, President Obama’s capitulation after he warned of airstrikes on the Assad government in order to protect civilian probably helped empower the Islamic State. Although the Assad government did give up most of its chemical weapons stockpiles to evade US military intervention, the prolonged Syrian Civil War is a major contributor to instability throughout the region. In truth, the main reason the Middle East is uniting to combat the Islamic State is US leadership and support, so the same sort of effort was needed on the Syrian Civil War years ago.
Considering the mind-blowing costs of the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under the George W. Bush Administration’s “War on Terror,” the strain of the Great Recession, and the ripple effects of past efforts to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs, hesitation is prudent. Where the Obama Administration erred is when it failed to help better support the interests of the Syrian People and lead the powers of the region to better address the interests of their Peoples.
Critics might point to the efforts of Arab nations to force a resolution between Israel and Palestine as the consequences of a failed Obama foreign policy. Quite frankly, Western efforts have continually failed to reach a resolution while the globalizing Arab World is growing increasingly angry at Israel’s apparent disregard for the lives of the Palestinian People. Instead of driving Muslims to destroy Israel, dividing the West and Middle East, and ignoring the violence of Hamas, Israel now has a chance to reconcile with the Arab World with the support of Middle East governments. It should embrace it.
Furthermore, the Obama Administration’s focus and leadership on Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine Crisis is also providing a windfall for US influence. Before the Ukraine Crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s global influence was on the rise while the United States appeared to be the cause of problems instead of a solution. When Putin decided to steal a piece of Ukraine then help start a civil war, he turned Russia the military power into a major destabilizing force and global threat.
Obama’s willingness to oppose Putin instead of leaving Russia to do as it pleases in its own sphere of influence help demonstrate the constructive nature of US power. At the same time, President Obama managed to help unify Europe against Putin over his mistreatment of a minor country. In doing so, he was once again selling America’s vision of an International Community designed to foster peace and prosperity through order.
Finally, the Ukraine Crisis was not the only brewing conflict between world powers that could have resulted in a major world war. China had spent much of early 2014 using its influence to bully neighbors like Japan and Vietnam. Like Russia, China is a major military power, so the US would rather not find itself at war with the Chinese. Instead of leaving China to do as it willed, the Obama Administration did stand up China, which also helped earn the US greater influence in Asia.
Consequently, the Islamic State may have become a greater threat because the Obama Administration did not intervene sooner, but there are prudent reasons it did not. Offering support to the Iraqi government and rest of the Middle East at the right time under the right conditions has, however, put the world on course to properly address global security interests and strengthen US influence.
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