58.3 F
Fort Worth
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Opinion Gerson: Obama’s Mideast failure ‘massive, undeniable’

Gerson: Obama’s Mideast failure ‘massive, undeniable’

Other News

Commentary: TCC Chancellor Eugene Giovannini: Maintaining Our Mission

Since our inception, one of Tarrant County College’s hallmarks has been our unwavering commitment to serving our community. As we all work to navigate...

Commentary: M. Ray Perryman: The Fed is taking largely unseen but essential action

The inevitable and unavoidable result of the extraordinary measures taken to curb the tragic health effects of the coronavirus has been a strong shock...

Commentary: Rising to the Challenge: Coronavirus Spurs Sacrifice and Generosity in Time of Need

These are difficult days. We’re frightened by the havoc COVID-19 may wreak on our families, friends, local businesses and the simple pleasures of life...

Analysis: Notes from a coronavirus hot spot

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans is right outside my door. But I can't go out. Not much, anyway. My wife and I are...
Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON – So ends a foreign policy experiment that began with two choices in 2011. In that hinge year, President Obama decided to stay out of the Syrian conflict and to passively accept the withdrawal of all U.S. ground forces from Iraq (which he later claimed as a personal achievement during his re-election campaign).

I’m not sure the motivation behind these acts can be termed a strategy. They seemed rooted in a perception of the public’s war-weariness (which Obama fed through his own rhetoric), a firm determination to be the anti-Bush, and a vague belief that a U.S. presence in the Middle East creates more problems than it solves. Not coincidentally, according to political scientist Colin Dueck, “elite, trans-Atlantic liberal opinion” viewed Obama’s approach as “the height of sophistication, regardless of its practical failures.”

Those failures are now massive, undeniable and unfolding: Atrocities in Syria (including the death of more than 10,000 children); an endless Syrian civil war in which the threat of the Islamic State, gathered strength; the victory of IS against a hollowed-out Iraqi military; the massacre of religious minorities; the establishment of a terrorist safe haven the size of New England, controlled by well-armed, expansionist, messianic militants; the attraction of more than 10,000 global jihadists to the conflict, including thousands with Western passports; and now the forced return of American attention to the region under dramatically less-favorable circumstances.

This is what the complete collapse of a foreign policy doctrine looks like. In the absence of stabilizing American leadership, the Middle East has become a regional Sunni-Shiite proxy war in which the most radical and ruthless thrive.

The Obama administration seems gobsmacked by the speed and extent of this unraveling. The possible collapse of Kurdistan (one of our most reliable friends in the region) was something that even the worst-case American analyses during the grimmest days of the Iraq War did not contemplate. This is what shocked the administration into (limited) action and accelerated the rethinking of American policy.

The options are few. The administration could seek the eventual destruction of the IS safe haven. This would involve encouraging a political accommodation to increase the legitimacy of Iraq’s central government; stabilizing the defense of Erbil and Baghdad with immediate military aid (which the administration has tentatively begun); targeting the extremists on both sides of the (nonexistent) Iraq/Syria border; attempting to peel off support among Sunni tribes sickened by the Islamic State’s brutality; and dramatically strengthening the Iraqi government and the Kurds so they can regain the offensive over time. Thousands of American troops would be necessary to advise Iraqi units, collect intelligence, conduct airstrikes and carry out special operations raids. This approach would require presidential leadership to mobilize American national will for a difficult fight against a determined enemy.

An alternative option might be the long-term containment of the Islamic State threat. This would also involve stabilizing the military situation in Iraq’s north and south but leaving IS militants in control of large sections of Syria and Iraq – trying to degrade their ability to strike globally and making clear that attacks on Western targets would bring massive retribution. This assumes a level of rationality (Western, secular rationality) on the part of Islamic State leaders that can only be called laughable. It is also the strategy most likely – after, say, a large-scale attack traced to the IS on an American city – to result in American divisions back in Mosul.

Or the Obama administration could continue to make a series of tactical adjustments to avoid further disaster while also avoiding setting out any definition of victory that might become a standard against which it is judged. This might (with luck) run out the second-term clock; it would also leave a toxic mess for the next president.

Clearly, the Obama administration is undergoing an internal struggle to define its ultimate policy goal. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey talks of a strategy to “initially contain, eventually disrupt, and finally defeat [IS] over time.” At the same time, unnamed White House officials consistently downplay the ambition of American goals in Iraq. And the president himself is a model of ambiguity, leaving the world to wonder if any of his various lines contain a hint of red.

Is it even possible for Obama to make the psychological adjustment from “the ender of wars” to “the sworn enemy of the Islamic State”? His record offers no reason for encouragement. But upon this unlikely transformation now depends the future of the Middle East and the security of America.

Michael Gerson’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.  

Latest News

Millennial Money: A new set of shopping tips in the pandemic

By COURTNEY JESPERSEN of NerdWallet Prior to March, shoppers would go to the mall or grocery store — without masks — and...

Commentary: Five Trends that could define our post-coronavirus lives

Richard Holt and Joan D’Amico As the Metroplex continues to grapple with the impact of COVID-19,...

Richard Connor: Your first vote is a vote you should always remember

My bet is she will remember this presidential election and how she voted better than I recall my first.

In Market: So, he’s the one

Well, I tried to do my civic duty on Oct. 14. No, I didn’t head to a local bar now that they’re...

Commentary: Going once, going twice, SOLD!

M. Ray Perryman Two Americans, Dr. Paul R. Milgrom and Dr. Robert B. Wilson of...