Obama's Middle Eastern foreign policy bellyflop

By Jeremy Lott, March 1, 2016

David Ignatius is second generation Democratic Party foreign policy royalty. “My father went to work for Kennedy in 1961, so I am very much part of that world,” the columnist and bestselling novelist said in a recent interview. His father rose to Secretary of the Navy before moving on to publish the Washington Post, where David ended up working for the bulk of his journalistic career.

Ignatius's judgment on foreign policy thus reflects something like a consensus of centrist and just left-of-center analysts. That's awful news for President Barack Obama's legacy. “It's impossible for me to argue that it's turned out well,” Ignatius said on the Federalist Radio Hour. Though Ignatius credits Obama with some successes, he thinks we can pretty much all agree that he bungled how America dealt with ISIS and much of the Middle East.

“Anybody would have been encouraged by the Arab Spring. It did seem like a hopeful moment. But the president made what I called at the time a 'cosmic bet' on these Muslim democrats and their ability to change the fundamentals. That has proven wrong and the president has paid deeply for it,” he admitted.

You don't have to agree with all the particulars of Ignatius's criticism of Obama's foreign policy to see he has a point that is hard to deny. He said that Obama had an “unrealistic view” and “unrealistic hopes” about change sweeping through Middle Eastern countries. It should be bleeding obvious world events have not gone the way Obama hoped they would.

In Ignatius's wizened eyes, the American president shoehorned these Arab Spring buddings into his stubborn notions of the march of progress. Thus, anyone who stood in their way was a tyrant on the “wrong side of history” whom the U.S. should oppose. And any hardcore jihadis were written off as a public nuisance hardly worthy of a second thought -- like that time Obama dismissed ISIS as “the JV team.” (In which case, Allah protect us from the Varsity.)

Serious analysts agree that a lack of “realism” was a stumbling block for the idealistic Obama. But one factor was at least as important and hasn't been given nearly enough attention: Obama's lack of restraint.

Obama started out by showing some promise in world affairs, especially when put up against his slightly unhinged opponent John McCain, who sang funny songs about bombing Iran. In contrast to McCain, this forthright opponent of the Iraq war promised to get America out of the Bush-caused Middle Eastern quagmire and keep us out.

The president did eventually manage to extract America from Iraq, sort of. All bases were shuttered and troops were redeployed elsewhere. But now American forces have been drawn back to Iraq, to deal with a new threat. Obama didn’t cause ISIS's rise, but his actions sure didn't help matters.

In Libya, at the prodding of foreign policy advisers including Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, Obama intervened in a civil war against a strongman who had gone to great lengths to make peace with America. In Egypt, Obama threatened the ruler with a military aid cutoff and other reprisals if he cracked down on protesters, forcing him to stand down. And in Syria, Obama has done everything he can short of going to war to oust Bashar Assad.

Obama's stubbornness about Assad is particularly troublesome. ISIS rose in the vacuum he helped enable in Syria and rolled right next door into Iraq, undoing much of the nation building work America had done there. Syrian moderate resistance fighters have proved to be weak or immoderate. Many of the arms supplied to them have found their way into ISIS hands. The president's untenable diplomatic position was so at loggerheads with Russia that Vladimir Putin's forces commenced bombing.

And yet, Obama continued to push for a two-front conflict long after that made sense to sensible people. Again, his actions may not have caused the Syrian refugee crisis currently threatening Europe, but he made things worse. The president's lack of realism and restraint have made him reckless with the peace of nations. America and much of rest of the world are worse off for it.

Jeremy Lott is a senior fellow at Defense Priorities.

This piece was originally published by the American Spectator on March 1, 2016. Read more HERE

Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore.