In his first term, President Obama all but declared victory in America’s Middle East struggles.
As he precipitously pulled out all U.S. peacekeepers from Iraq, the president had his own “mission accomplished” moment when declaring the country “stable,” “self-reliant” and an “extraordinary achievement.”
Those claims echoed Vice President Joe Biden’s earlier boast that Iraq somehow would prove Mr. Obama’s “greatest achievement.”
After the death of Osama bin Laden, and during Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, the president also proclaimed that al Qaeda was a spent force and “on the run.”
What exactly was the new Obama strategy that supposedly had all but achieved a victory in the larger war on terrorism amid Middle East hostility?
Fuzzy euphemisms replaced supposedly hurtful terms like “terrorism,” “jihadist” and “Islamist.” The administration gave well-meaning speeches exaggerating Islamic achievement while citing past American culpability.
We tilted toward Turkey and the Palestinians while sternly lecturing Israel. Military victory was caricatured as an obsolete concept. Leading from behind was a clever substitute.
Middle Easterners gathered that a bruised America would limp away from the region and pivot its forces elsewhere, saving billions of dollars to be better spent at home. The new soft-power rhetorical approach sought to win over the hearts and minds of the Arab Street and thereby deny terrorists popular support.
To grade that policy, survey the current Middle East, or what is left of it: Egypt, the Gulf monarchies, Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Palestinians, Libya, Syria and Turkey. It is fair to say that America has somehow managed to alienate friends, embolden enemies and multiply radical Islamic terrorists.
So what happened?
In short, the Obama administration put politics and ideology ahead of a disinterested and nonpartisan examination of the actual status of the 2009 Middle East.
The more Mr. Obama campaigned in 2008 on a failed war in Iraq, a neglected war in Afghanistan, an ill-considered war on terrorism and an alienated Middle East, the more those talking points were outdated and eclipsed by fast-moving events on the ground.
By Inauguration Day in January 2009, the hard-power surge had largely defeated al Qaeda in Iraq. It had won over many of the Sunnis and had led to a U.S.-enforced coalition government, monitored by American troops.
However, there remained one caveat: What had been won on the ground could be just as easily lost if the United States did not leave behind peacekeepers in the manner that it had in all its past successful interventions — the Balkans, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.
Likewise, the once-derided “war on terrorism” measures — Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, military tribunals, preventative detentions, renditions and drones — by 2009 had largely worked. Since Sept. 11, 2001, America had foiled dozens of terrorist plots against our homeland and neutralized terrorists abroad, killing tens of thousands in both Iraq and Afghanistan.