U.S. involvement in the Middle East reads like this, “It’s too late to drain the swamp when you’re up to your waist in alligators.” According to polls, most Americans feel strongly in favor of getting away from the Middle East as fast as we can and leaving any draining of that “swamp” to persons who live there.
Meanwhile, by way of a New York Times/CBS News poll, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is approved by just 36 percent of Americans. There have been times during his presidency that Obama’s foreign policy was a source of strength for him; however, that was then and it’s quite different in June 2014.
Obama is held hostage for alleged indiscretions. For one, there was the trade of Idaho’s Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners that proved unpopular here. On what might be argued the popular side of that “coin,” some viewed the trade for an American soldier as not only humane but continuing the practice of placing as much importance on bringing home captive troops as the remains of those deceased. Arguments, too, in favor, have wondered whether these five older Taliban are still a combat threat and, perhaps, even more important, that this trade was an opportunity to open talks that could establish the start to a negotiated peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Russian aggression in Ukraine has also infuriated many of us. That the matter is due to Obama’s weakness is arguably a long stretch. Factually speaking, Russia invaded its state of Georgia and took a scalpel to two breakaway republics under George W. Bush and Bush couldn’t or wouldn’t interfere. Should the blame for President Vladimir Putin pushing his people around without military intervention by the U.S. thereby be shared by Obama and Bush? Whatever the case, Obama diplomacy appears to have worked in place of an exchange of hydrogen bombs while, in the meantime, this past week, Putin called on the Russian Parliament to withdraw permission for an invasion of Ukraine.
A third topic of discontent among the leading neocons over Iraq leads anyone who knows the facts to remember that they were responsible for the preemptive invasion of that sovereign nation and the huge mess that has followed, down to the present day. After all, Baath Party leader and Sunni Saddam Hussein, with all his warts, kept a lid on the dissidents and prevented al-Qaeda from establishing a foothold there from which to attack the U.S., unlike the ISIS of current monumental concern to the safety and security of the U.S. and remainder of the world.
On the positive side also, Obama has done some good by pulling fuses out of kegs of chemical weapons in Syria. Although the civil war in Syria continues to rage, this success over the use of poisonous gas appears a permanent fix there. Keep in mind, too, that the Sunni and Shia factions have warred with each other over Muhammad’s successor since 632 A.D. and there’s nothing that upsets them more than infidels there.
So, is Obama deserving of the harsh assessments he’s now receiving? Well, it looks as though the criticisms will continue on their harshly negative path, the same ones that started even before Obama was inaugurated in 2009 and may have more to do with the color of his skin than the content of his character. All other things notwithstanding, Obama should not be sending our military advisers into Iraq for any reason because it amounts to taking sides and has already, through loss of life and treasure, proven futile. And, if anything is critical to a start at conditions resembling an ongoing shaky peace between Sunni and Shia, it’s letting them settle their mutual animosities sufficient enough to establish order for a peaceful co-existence.
President Obama may have reached a crossroad’s intersection and a lasting legacy for his two terms. He can continue to send U.S. military advisers, multiplying their number and thereby competing with Bush, LBJ and Nixon for most despised president in the nation’s history. Or, he can stand up to the neocon hawks in D.C. and withdraw all American military advisers as soon as they get the U.S. embassy staff out and we leave the place to the warring crazies who’ve been at each other’s throats for 1,400 years.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer. His column appears regularly in the Keizertimes.)