Missile strikes make weak presidents feel strong, but accomplish little else
The president who claimed he would end “Bush’s wars” is preparing to start one of his own — in Syria. U.S., British and French naval forces are being gathered in the Eastern Mediterranean to punish Syrian despot Bashar Assad for crossing the Obama “red line” — again.
The carnage in Syria — 100,000-plus dead, 250,000 wounded, 2.3 million mostly civilian refugees — is a direct result of the O Team’s abysmal, feckless foreign policy.
It began with the president’s 2009 utopian speech in Cairo about an “Arab Spring” that did nothing to improve the condition of anyone in the “Arab World.” In fact, in all these countries, people are worse off.
Mr. Obama has consistently insulted and badgered the Israeli government. His demands that they abandon their right of self-defense and pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a “peace deal” with people who won’t even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist have encouraged our enemies, dismayed our allies, exacerbated tensions and driven up the price of oil.
The administration’s naive belief that “free and fair elections” are possible in countries totally devoid of any democratic traditions or institutions is lunacy. Test cases of this theory in Iran, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Zimbabwe have proven disastrous for the people of these nations, and particularly so for Christians — Maronites, Copts, Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestant missionaries.
The administration’s hasty 2011 retreat from Iraq emboldened the ayatollahs in Iran. The Malaki government in Baghdad is now an Iranian satrapy. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps uses Iraqi highways and air bases built with American blood and treasure to export militants and weapons to Syria and Lebanon and import equipment for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Radical Islamists and jihadis — armed and trained by the Saudi government and various gulf emirates — are flooding into Syria through Turkey. Instead of acting as a NATO ally, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, now controls all aid flowing to the Syrian opposition.
The president’s “red line” bluster before Mr. Assad used chemical weapons the first time — and his phony promise to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi terror attack last Sept. 11 “to justice” taught our adversaries an important lesson: Mr. Obama shoots from the lip.
Unfortunately, we no longer have the military power we did when the president came into office. Then we had 11 aircraft carriers. Today we have only six ready to deploy. Our Navy now has more admirals than warships.
That’s why the Chinese and Russians can repeatedly stick their fingers in Mr. Obama’s eye over the Edward Snowden case, sanctions on Iran and now threats of reprisals if the United States attacks Syria.
Worse still, our human intelligence on the ground in the Middle East is so bad we don’t know who the “good guys” in the Syrian opposition are. The National Security Agency has spent so much time and resources spying on us they don’t even know the Syrians’ phone numbers.
What will cruise missiles do to stop the carnage in Syria? Ask Bill Clinton.
More than two months after Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush in 1993, Mr. Clinton ordered an attack on Baghdad with 23 cruise missiles. Saddam continued his aggression against his neighbors and his own people for another decade.
The threat of cruise missiles raining down from the heavens failed to prevent radical Islamist terror attacks. Two weeks after U.S. embassies were destroyed by suicide bombers in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Mr. Clinton ordered more than 75 cruise missiles fired at a vacant tent camp in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. That didn’t deter al Qaeda from killing 17 sailors and wounding 39 others in a suicide attack on the USS Cole two years later.
In short, cruise missiles may make weak presidents feel strong, but they don’t have a long-term affect on despots or terrorists.
Before Mr. Obama gives the order to launch the Tomahawks, he needs to do some things that might really make a difference:
First, remember: Sept. 11 is a jihadi anniversary — every year. That’s less than two weeks from now. Immediately beef up security at every American diplomatic mission in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Second, tell the Israelis in advance of any military action. They really are our closest allies in a part of the world where we need friends.
Third, go to the relevant committees of Congress, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with a presidential finding ordering our risk-averse intelligence agencies to immediately hire a sufficient number of contractors to train, equip and send into the field a force of real Syrian freedom fighters. Start recruiting in the refugee camps in Jordan, not Turkey or Iraq.
Fourth, read Barbara Tuchman’s excellent book, “The Guns of August,” about how great powers can stumble into a conflagration. If that’s too heavy for a Harvard law grad, buy and read a copy of “Heroes Proved,” about what happens to a president who forgets the first point listed above.
Oliver North is the host of “War Stories” on Fox News Channel.