United States — September 13, 2013 at 4:12 PM

Obama’s foreign policy quagmire

No one saw it coming. So, when President Obama made his real intention known it caught the world off guard. Quite frankly the surprise wasn’t so much about his refusal to take immediate military action against Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, for use of chemical weapon in Syria’s civil war; rather, it was the fact that President of the most powerful country on earth misled the world about his true intentions. If President Obama had no desire to take action against Assad if he crossed the red line he set for him with regard to use of chemical weapon, then the President should have stayed out of the matter from the onset. Suddenly back-pedaling away from his tough talk when Assad dared him made the President look embarrassingly weak.

The only good thing that came out of the diplomatic blunder after Assad crossed the red line was that it helped us understand President Obama’s secrete foreign policy thoughts. Upon taking office in 2008 most scholars thought they knew how the freshly minted President intended to carry out his foreign policy. They were wrong. Now the chickens have come home to roost and Obama’s foreign policy pitfalls lay bare for all to see like a billboard advertorial hoisted on a popular highway intersection.

The President’s initial missteps in handling Assad’s chemical weapon crisis revealed a weakness of sort in his foreign policy underpinnings which his die-hard supporters denied existed. Rather than take punitive action against Assad as he hinted prior to Assad’s flagrant disregard of his threat, Obama back-tracked. He tossed the matter on the lap of U.S lawmakers knowing fully well that his bid for congressional authorization for use of force against Assad was unlikely to be granted. This prompted most political observers to conclude that President of the world’s most powerful nation blinked in a standoff with Assad, a Third World dictator. Now, the White House consequently is in damage control mode trying to rehabilitate Obama’s Commander-in-Chief image, which understandably has taken a shellacking.

Those who are mystified by the initial lack luster action against Assad for his bad behavior obviously had not paid close attention to how Obama had thus far conducted his foreign policy. They must have been fooled into believing that President Obama’s ordering of Osama Bin Laden’s hit meant that he is a no nonsense tough leader and warrior who meant every threat he issued.

Take a look at his foreign policy track record and the whole thing will unravel before your eyes. All along observers thought Obama had a strategy on Syria. After all, it was him who threatened that if Assad used chemical weapon(s) in Syria’s civil war that he (Assad) would have crossed a red line and that would change his (Obama’s) calculus. The implication being that it would prompt a response from him and that Assad would pay a price.

Secretly Obama nursed the idea that he was elected to end U.S wars rather than start wars. In the wake of the Syrian debacle he repeatedly echoed that thought in most of his speeches and media addresses. In fact, it became his key talking point as the controversy raged on like a runaway harmattan brush fire.

I was appalled each time he made that argument. It may be true that he was elected to end wars, but that notion is only valid in the context of all things being equal. Just because majority of Americans got tired of wars owing to the Iraq warfare which former President George W. Bush launched, did not mean Obama should walk away from a legitimate war. Some wars are necessary to keep the peace.

Again, using Syria as backdrop to elicit Obama’s foreign policy quagmire, here’s how it pans out. First, President Obama publicly announced that Assad must go but without any strategy on how to make that happen. That was mistake no. 1 because the President and commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful nation should never engage in wishful thinking on a subject as serious as a rogue leader thumping his nose at the world. Say only what you mean and mean what you say.

Second, Obama was not as engaging as he should have been although this lethargic behavior was a direct consequence of his mistake no. 1. Having committed mistake no. 1 he was now under the spell of it and hoped that somehow the opposition to Assad in the war will successfully gut it out on its own. Had that happened we would never have known his strategy of no strategy. When the President stated that Assad must go but without real support for those fighting to oust the dictator, how did he think Assad ouster was going to happen? Did the President think that it would happen through some magical voodoo abracadabra concocted in some remote village in West Indies?

In matters of war, diplomatic wishful thinking doesn’t count, only rhetoric backed with action do. Recall that President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize award soon after he took office. I believe because of that award he is trying too hard to be seen as a peaceful president and this has hurt his foreign policy strategy.Furthermore, although his Cairo speech soon after assuming office was well intentioned, it portrayed him as weak in the minds of some foes. In hindsight he should have erred on the side of caution and not give the Cairo speech.

The United States is the current leader of the world. But such grandiose title comes with some responsibilities which include leading the world in many fronts. Properly leading the world to manage the Syrian crisis is a leadership responsibility that squarely rests on the President’s shoulders. However, when the President in his wisdom decided not to quickly nip the Syrian crisis in the bud at the infancy stage he worsened what could have been a quick and decisive Libyan-style revolution to dethrone Assad. Now the situation has metamorphosed into a grotesque sectarian war between the Suni Muslim majority and the ruling Alawite minority.

Further, due to Obama’s initial inaction, some terrorist groups including the famous anti-American jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra (the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) have deployed and fighting alongside the Free Syria Army, Assad’s main opposition. And do you blame the Free Syria Army for allowing some terrorist groups to join the fight in support of it? Wouldn’t you if you are fighting a man equipped with fighter jets, bombs and chemical agents? The old Arab aphorism that my enemy’s enemy is my friend couldn’t be truer in this circumstance.

Pursuant to the entrant of the terrorist groups in the war game, some people now argue that if the U.S got involved it might, in effect, be helping al-Nusra take over Syria. In other word, if Assad falls Syria might become under the control of a terrorist organization. Recall, however, that when the conflict first broke out there was no al-Nusra. The battle was clean cut between the Free Syria Army and what was left of Assad’s army after a chunk of it defected to form the Free Syria Army. Regardless, the Free Syria Army is the dominant opposition and I seriously doubt it will allow terrorist groups to take over Syria when Assad falls.

Obama’s initial inaction allowed a vacuum to occur. And since nature abhors vacuum, governments in the Arabian Peninsula moved in to fill the vacuum by backing their proxies in the war. These governments are giving money and guns to bearded jihadist instead of the widely secular and moderate Free Syria Army.

The Syrian crisis is only one symptom of President Obama’s foreign policy blunder. There are others that have gone unnoticed or ignored. Some right wing opponents of the President had long pointed to some of them, but the President’s staunch supporters had waved off the criticism saying it was a mere witch-hunt tactic. Some even blamed any criticism of the President’s foreign policy pitfall on racism. To the extent that some of the criticisms were political witch-hunts from Obama’s detractors some of the denunciations are legitimate and not racially or politically motivated.

Reasons abound why things are the way they are. One of them is the President’s view of the world when he initially took over power. He had a simplistic view of the world and erroneously believed that he could change hardcore foes into friends through fancy speeches. I don’t necessarily agree with the fancy speech strategy, but I respect the President’s right to exercise what he believed in. However, what I disagree with is that after five years in office and faced with the reality that fancy speeches will not necessarily change those who have sworn to attack America and its allies, the President is still holding onto his pre-2008 foreign policy views.

To get it right President Obama must change his rigid belief that he was elected to end wars. He must see himself through the binoculars of a President and Commander-in-Chief who will do everything necessary to protect and defend the country he was elected to lead regardless if such move went against a campaign promise or the acceptance of a Nobel Peace Prize.

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