Long before the White House articulated its “leading from behind” Middle East policy it was obvious to the casual observer that America’s strategy for stabilizing and enhancing U.S. influence in the region was failing. The failure of the United States and particularly the president and secretary of state to project American strength in the area and solidarity with Israel and with the few Arab states that have historically partnered with us opened the door for the tragedy that is unfolding today with millions of refugees from across the troubled Middle East pouring into Europe.
The human tragedy unfolding in Europe today threatens to wreak havoc on both NATO and the European Union as the nations try to deal with the ever increasing mass of humanity flooding their borders. It is probably not too strong a prediction to say that if this crisis isn’t handled properly, the wave of Islamic refugees entering Europe today could shake the very foundations of western civilization and its Judeo-Christian legacy; particularly when one considers the terrorist threat embedded in the surge of humanity (both legitimate terrorists and the potential recruiting market that exists within the displaced Muslim population flooding Europe).
How did this crisis develop?
America is accountable for allowing this crisis to develop. Consider what the “leading from behind” policy has wrought.
It is not inaccurate to cite the premature Iraqi pullout as marking the beginning of this ill-fated policy. That was followed by the Muslim spring welcomed by the administration as a fresh start for those countries involved, but that has turned out to be a miserable failure. The only reason Egypt is still within the U.S. circle of influence has been the ability of the Egyptian army to prevent a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the government. Remember the Obama administration welcomed the Muslim Brotherhood’s initial successes and were critical of the Army’s actions. Yemen, touted by the administration as a major success story has proven to be a disaster with the country in chaos today. In Libya, after “leading from behind” (this is when the term was actually first used by the administration) in the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi, we abandoned the country, allowing it to slip into instability and chaos.
The Syrian civil war again presented the Obama administration with another opportunity to “lead from behind.” By making definitive statements about the future of President Bashar Assad’s regime and drawing unequivocal red lines in the sand, without effective follow up, America has allowed the human tragedy to drag on and on causing the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, helped open a vacuum which the Islamic State has been to eager to fill, and now has allowed the Russians and Russian President Vladimir Putin to gain a new stronghold in the Middle East. This latest development will only increase the rush of Syrians to leave their homeland and further destabilize the region.
There can be little doubt that the U.S. policy of “leading from behind” has opened the door to the Islamic State crisis and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate claiming thousands of square miles in Syria and Iraq, threatening to destabilize the governments of Iraq and Jordan and others in the region. This development is what triggered the Muslim refugee invasion of Europe and presents the greatest challenge to western civilization since the rise of the Third Reich.
The “leading from behind” policies pursued by this administration in the region have also created at least two new issues of international import. The Iran nuclear deal, which when implemented will further inflame the Shiite/Sunni passions already strained, and with the billions dollars flowing into Iran as a result of the agreement there will surely be an increase in funding to terrorist organizations supported by the Iranian government resulting in an increase in terrorism and senseless death and maiming around the world.
There is probably no greater example of failed U.S. Middle East policies than the abandonment of our strongest ally and only true democracy in the region, Israel. By callously ignoring Israeli concerns for the threats they face daily and by attempting to influence their national elections in hopes of unseating Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama emboldened the Muslim threat to Israel’s very existence. And of course, the administration’s support of the Iranian nuclear deal which, by any measure poses an existential threat to Israel, has sent a clear message to the Israelis that they are on their own as long as this administration is in office.
But, it would be neither fair nor accurate to place all the blame on U.S. policies. Europe is reaping the fruits of their failure to be involved in any significant way as all of these events unfolded. Their failure of engagement earlier in these events was short sighted and has certainly contributed to the refugee crisis they face today.
This must be treated as a problem that Europe and the stable Middle Eastern states must resolve. While Europe struggles with balancing their humane concerns for the hundreds of thousands of displaced men, women and children with their very real concerns about the threat these refuges represent to their own national security, only Jordan of the western leaning Arab States has accepted any of the refugees. Clearly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others in the area must step up and help resolve this human tragedy.
That said, the U.S. should limit its involvement to humanitarian aid. The U.S. should not accept any — ANY — of the Middle Eastern refugees created by this crisis. This conclusion is not reached out of any lack of compassion for the human tragedy unfolding, but is based upon two significant unresolved issues:
As long as our southern border remains unsecured and we are forced to deal with millions of illegal aliens creating a burden on our public services and legal system, it would be foolish to believe we can also absorb a mass influx of thousands of additional immigrants.
The lack of any reliable vetting system that can ensure those Middle Eastern refugees we allow to enter are not associated with or sympathetic to the many terrorist groups that are surely taking advantage of this chaos to infiltrate as many “enemy states” as possible, presents the threat of opening our doors to radical Islamic terrorists. This danger is real and significant. American security trumps the humanitarian concerns that would otherwise be determinative in this discussion.
• Jim Kinney is a retired U.S. Navy captain.