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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Volatile region needs a strategy

Telegraph Editorial

President George W. Bush’s decision to attack Iraq, take down Saddam Hussein and make the Middle East safe for democracy is considered among the worst foreign policy blunders in American history.

Much of the current unrest in the region can trace its roots to the destabilizing effects of tearing apart a country without a clue about how to put it back together. It was a fear of the unknown consequences of attempting to rebuild a fractured Iraq that led President George H. W. Bush to wisely stop the first Gulf War before conquering Baghdad. ...

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President George W. Bush’s decision to attack Iraq, take down Saddam Hussein and make the Middle East safe for democracy is considered among the worst foreign policy blunders in American history.

Much of the current unrest in the region can trace its roots to the destabilizing effects of tearing apart a country without a clue about how to put it back together. It was a fear of the unknown consequences of attempting to rebuild a fractured Iraq that led President George H. W. Bush to wisely stop the first Gulf War before conquering Baghdad.

Today, the question is whether President Barack Obama is making another gigantic foreign policy blunder by trying to soft-pedal what is turning into the United States’ third war in Iraq in the past quarter-century. Critics contend the president’s reluctance to aggressively confront the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham poses great danger to American regional interests and national security.

Complicating the situation is the political upheaval taking place in the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refuses to step aside, even after President Fouad Massoum selected the deputy speaker of parliament to replace him within 30 days. In an eerie admonition, al-Maliki warned army, police and security forces to stay out of the political crisis and focus on defending the country.

The Obama administration hopes that a new Iraqi government will be more inclusive of divergent interests and pave the way for a lasting political solution that will finally facilitate national stability. But even if everything works out perfectly, it will still likely be many years before the country can return to any sense of normalcy.

The problem at hand, however, is ISIS. Unless its advances are stopped, the question of who is Iraq’s prime minister could be moot. And that’s why Obama is under attack on many fronts, including from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who took Obama to task in an interview published in The Atlantic for not articulating a forceful foreign policy strategy.

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton said, in a direct dig at the phrase Obama has used to articulate his foreign policy objective.

Now, certainly Clinton’s comments were undoubtedly self-serving. As she prepares to seek the presidency, she needs to separate herself from the increasingly unpopular president for whom she worked.

Yet, she also has a point. While Americans have grown tired of extended overseas military commitments that drag on seemingly without resolution, they are becoming even more exasperated with a president whose first instinct is to retreat.

The issue at hand is ISIS, which is perilously close to establishing a base from which it can become a true terrorist training ground to wreak havoc around the world. It now controls large sections of eastern Syria and western Iraq, enriched, armed and emboldened with the bounty it has collected in its march westward.

While Baghdad is not in immediate danger, the same cannot be said for northwestern Iraq, now under the control of the Kurdish regional government, which is next on ISIS’ hit list. The oil-rich region of the country would further strengthen the ruthless Islamic extremists.

The Obama administration’s decision to provide aid and air cover to the Kurds gave of the appearance of a last-minute panic reaction, rather than part of a true strategy.

And that’s the problem. Regardless of how we got to where we are, the president needs to articulate a clear strategy for stopping ISIS before that organization becomes even more dangerous and reaches the point where it can’t be stopped.

Obama has been directing from behind for too long. It’s time to step up and lead.