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SMITH: ‘Hope’ is not a foreign-policy strategy

Obama’s failures paint a dismal picture

- - Monday, September 17, 2012

On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, we saw signs that the classified nature of America's foreign-policy portfolio has made it prime picking for political spin. Indeed, this is the first election year in recent history in which Americans are expressing more confidence in the defense credentials of Democrats than of Republicans. This plus recent events in Libya, Egypt and Yemen should invoke reminders of the foreign-policy and intelligence failures of the Carter years. Those failures culminated with another attack on a U.S. embassy -- concluding with the Iran hostage crisis.

The Obama administration has been working hard to engender this confidence by -- ironically -- leading a campaign of leaks that actually diminishes the strength of counterterrorism programs the president touts as his shining foreign-policy achievements. As those programs were initiated before President Obama arrived in the White House, perhaps it would be beneficial for Mitt Romney to point out that the achievements stem from policies devised by a Republican administration. When making the case for why the American people are being sold a bill of goods, the Republican nominee needn't look beyond the Middle East and Southwest Asia, even if Mr. Obama is busy distracting Americans with a "strategic pivot" to the Pacific theater. This comes as the Muslim Brotherhood's political rise ostensibly is beginning to foster the mainstreaming of radicalism in a region home to the so-called global jihad.

Iraq: We have yet to determine whether the exit from Iraq benefits anyone other than the president, politically. Iran's use of Iraqi airspace to support the massacre under way in Syria, which the president refuses to seize upon as an opportunity to demonstrate America's moral leadership while also shoring up relations with Sunni Arabs and containing Iran, is but one example of many problems that may be attributed to Mr. Obama's move to abruptly end U.S. operations in Iraq.

Afghanistan: If the president honestly believes America's war fighters in Afghanistan are still focused on defeating jihadis who want to own the country again, he obviously is not interacting with those on the ground below the two-star rank. Thanks to Mr. Obama, our troops are focused on the same thing as the Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, etc.: America's withdrawal in 2014. Neither side has to think about victory over the other; they merely have to watch the clock. Meanwhile, our service members are roaming the country in uniform, like painted targets.

Osama bin Laden: Thank God Mr. Obama had more courage than the last Democrat who resided in the White House, and seized the opportunity to kill al Qaeda's founding leader. Thank God the George W. Bush administration permitted use of interrogation methods that shed light on a path to bin Laden. Those are the same methods of which Mr. Obama's attorney general just concluded his investigations, insinuating superpatriots employed by CIA are criminals.

Al Qaeda: The Obama administration has yet to address the factor that is keeping al Qaeda alive: support from the Iranian regime that has enabled al Qaeda's core to overcome America's efforts to dismantle it. In 2009, the CIA -- obviously with input from the administration -- shuttered a Bush-era program focused on monitoring and even targeting top al Qaeda officials in Iran. Perhaps this was Mr. Obama's way of giving the Iranian regime the room it needed to unclench its fist. This, in turn, empowered al Qaeda to create more distractions from the fact that Iran is at war with the United States and Israel. Clearly, apart from financial data the Treasury Department can act on vis-a-vis non-kinetic means, the administration is disinterested in actionable intelligence on al Qaeda's activities in its one true safe haven, Iran.

Iran: In addition to having done little to end Iran's support for the world's most lethal terrorists, the Obama administration has failed to disrupt Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The president passed on the opportunity to provide serious overt support to the Green Revolution in 2009, although analysts have long agreed the only way to fully deter the government of Iran from functioning as the world's leading sponsor of Islamic terrorism is through top-down regime change. Never mind that regime change in Iran also might have laid the groundwork for drawing back Iran into stronger relations with the West, thus yielding a viable path toward dismantling the country's nuclear programs.

Syria: The Obama administration implemented the same policy in Syria it followed in Iran in 2009 -- a policy of inaction in the face of opportunities to fuel regime change. This leaves intact Iran's umbilical cord feeding Hezbollah on Israel's northern border. Further, Mr. Obama's failure to take action in Syria basically erases the moral leadership America previously demonstrated during the Arab Spring. Ultimately, the message here is this: When oil is not at stake, President Obama is pleased to watch Muslims being slaughtered en masse by other Muslims -- just as they will be by the Taliban in Afghanistan following America's withdrawal in 2014. For many Arabs, this lack of interest makes it seem reasonable for "moderate" members of the Muslim Brotherhood to encourage attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo or for terrorists to kill U.S. consulate staffers in Libya.

This is the case Mr. Romney should present to Americans. As John Adams once put it, facts are stubborn things -- and sound logic is not in the president's favor when it comes to his foreign-policy portfolio. It's hard to insist, as Mr. Obama did in his 2009 Cairo address, on Islam's "proud tradition of tolerance" when observing the strains of Islam gaining political footholds in the Middle East. If history is any guide, our nation is sure to pay a heavy price for the willful blindness and wishful thinking that has begotten so many of the Obama administration's foreign-policy failures.

Indeed, hope is not a strategy for success. When it comes to asserting America's interests around the world, it is the stuff of last resort.

Michael S. Smith II is a principal and co-founder of Kronos Advisory and a senior analyst with Wikistrat.