The world is awash with troublemakers testing our resolve. Is our president up to the challenge?
When it comes to national security policy, the administration seems adrift on so many levels. Most alarming is President Obama’s outright disregard for real threats, chief among them the menace of Islamist terror. He has alternately compared the jihadists to “a jayvee team,” “violent extremists,” and most recently, random urban criminals. His unwillingness to identify — let alone combat — the scourge of radical Islam as a festering global challenge is bewildering, irresponsible, and insulting (not just to our intelligence). Congressional leaders on the right and the left are simply exasperated. Were it only a cynical ploy to avoid responsibility for policy failure, his dismissive attitude would be scandalous. That he really seems to believe what he is saying is simply terrifying.
Where the White House does acknowledge a challenge, it is notoriously late to the game. The Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria, the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the emergence of ISIS, and the unraveling of the government in Yemen — all seemed to catch the president off guard. Advisors and spokesmen were then left scrambling to explain the government’s positions and strategy.
One instance where President Obama did try to get ahead of a global security challenge was the escalating brutality of the Assad regime in Syria. Against the use of chemical weapons, the president famously drew a (red) line in the sand. As we now know, when Assad called his bluff, Obama was unable or unwilling to follow through. The rest of the world took notice, allies and foes alike.
Threats of force from this administration simply do not pass muster unless we can “lead from behind.” Or at least from the safety of a remote base piloting a drone.
Obama is so fearful of replicating the perceived overreach of his predecessor that he simply refuses to project strength. Confession, conciliation, and concession are the standard features of the Obama doctrine (if you can call it that). In Iraq and Afghanistan, we pre-announced our scheduled withdrawals and did little to protect the military gains for which we had sacrificed so much. In the face of Russian intransigence — later to become belligerence — we unilaterally disarmed by unwinding commitments to place antimissile batteries in Eastern Europe. And regarding ISIS, we take options off the table, such as “boots on the ground,” even though we lack the intelligence needed to sustain an effective campaign against the would-be totalitarian caliphate.
You don’t have to subscribe to the foreign policy principles of Senators McCain and Graham to realize how much we are dropping the ball. Our adversaries can either ignore our demands and threats outright, or they can simply wait for them to pass and wither. While President Obama slow-walks offers to bolster the army of Ukraine with lethal weaponry, the rest of Eastern Europe is getting anxious. It’s only a matter of time before Vladimir Putin identifies Russian speakers elsewhere in the region who require protection from some contrived injustice.
So when it comes to negotiations with Iran, is it any wonder that leaders of Congress doubt the White House? Why should anyone trust that diplomacy engineered by this president can keep the Iranian nuclear program in check? Iran is at the table of under the strain of a vigorous sanctions regime. Obama seeks to curtail further moves in this direction, threatening to veto legislation that would tighten economic pressure.
Sadly, it seems this is the only kind of threat from President Obama one can believe in.