Many Democrats, especially in the mainstream media, have come around after 5½ years of the Obama presidency: U.S. inaction is itself a choice, and the result may well be international chaos, war and human rights atrocities on a massive scale. Unless the United States acts swiftly and forcefully early on, our options narrow and become worse. Conservatives can take some satisfaction in having consistently sounded the warning throughout the Obama/Hillary Clinton/John Kerry debacle-filled foreign policy.
But now what? The administration has finally become alarmed since the one foreign policy achievement Obama had boasted about – a stable, peaceful Iraq (resulting from George W. Bush’s presidential leadership in the face of Democratic vilification) – is in tatters.
The Post and other news outlets are reporting that 275 military personnel may be sent to Iraq for protection of our existing personnel there and will be combat-equipped.
It is, however, unclear what, if any, other strategic objectives they will be there to accomplish and whether our goal is to restore an independent Iraq or to invite the wolves (Iran) into the chicken coop.
Republicans should think before they dash off prescriptions for “boots on the ground.” A former U.S. official critical of the Obama team remarks, “If anything goes awry, and it will, they will duck for cover and let conservatives take the hit.” More fundamentally, “It is absurd to give advice to people who will screw up any active policy.” And there is another danger — confirming the caricature of conservatives as invariably ready to leap before they look. Some have already fallen into the trap. Whatever advice is doled out must be considered in light of the president we currently have, not a Bush-like figure who will persevere until victory is obtained.
At the other extreme, joining in the Hillary Clinton chorus emphatically ruling out military actions is bad policy and bad politics. We’ve seen over and over again that signaling unwillingness to act encourages foes and demoralizes our enemies. From the GOP’s perspective, it is important to re-establish the party as the one of strong and responsible foreign policy.
To that end, the loyal opposition should do three things.
First, on a bipartisan basis Congress should explore how Obama let Iraq devolve into chaos (Was it an intelligence failure? Presidential inattention?). That needs to be pursued along with vigorous and constant oversight to determine what our policy now is and how the president plans to implement it. Perhaps liberal spinners can now understand the importance of Benghazi oversight: It is critical to know how the administration repeatedly fails to recognize and respond in a timely fashion to al-Qaeda infiltration and aggression. And in that regard, rather than pursue one small piece of the problem (Benghazi), a bipartisan commission or committee should look at the Middle East calamity in total. Any liberals want to argue against that?
Conservatives should also be crystal clear about the historical record. This administration was handed victory in Iraq. It proceeded to throw it away — in addition to being caught off guard in Libya, ignoring Syria and permitting the continued use of weapons of mass destruction, and entering into a dangerous interim agreement with Iran that hints we will not demand an end to all enrichment. Now the administration is getting ready to throw away Afghanistan by repeating the exact same error it committed in Iraq (the zero troop option, albeit not immediately). The former official concludes, “The result is that Islamists are doing better than at any time since September 10, 2001.” And let’s not forget — an Iran not isolated but emboldened.
And finally, conservatives need to demonstrate that they have both learned from the Bush years and have a responsible alternative to the false choice between constant war and appeasement. In that regard, Retired Gen. Jack Keane (who co-authored the Iraq surge) and the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka make an important contribution to the post-Bush foreign policy. They write:
The Middle East is in a downward spiral. More than 160,000 have died in Syria’s civil war, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, aka ISIS, has captured key Iraqi cities and is marching on Baghdad, and the security investments made by the U.S. over the past decade—like them or not—are being frittered away.
It is still possible to reverse the recent gains of ISIS, an outgrowth of what was once al Qaeda in Iraq. The group’s fighters number only in the thousands, and while well-armed, they lack the accoutrements of a serious military. But only the United States can provide the necessary military assistance for Baghdad to beat back our shared enemy.
How do they suggest we achieve that? Help Iraq repair its intelligence “architecture”; deploy planners and trainers; use special forces “clandestinely to attack high value ISIS targets and leaders in Iraq and Syria”; and use U.S. airpower. Under no circumstances should we be collaborating with Iran, for it was Iran that contributed mightily to sectarian violence, threatens to destroy Israel, seeks to topple Sunni monarchs and aims to export terror.
In the end, there is no telling whether Obama’s gross errors can be corrected and whether a stable, independent Iraq, an Assad- and jihadist-free Syria, and a disarmed Iran can be obtained. Keane and Pletka nevertheless conclude, “This is about the security of the U.S., our allies and our vital interests. If we do nothing—if our imagination fails us once again—it is the American people who again will pay a terrible price. Weighed against the limited requirements to help Iraqis and Syrians fight for themselves, that is well worth the effort.”
It is also worth considering how one of the architects of this debacle, Hillary Clinton, could possibly be entrusted with the presidency. Aren’t things bad enough already?