by Jeremy Lott, April 20, 2016
Is President Barack Obama “dumb,” at least on foreign policy?
I do not mean to pose this question disrespectfully. To frame it like that leaves me, someone who was brought up to respect the office by respecting the president, uneasy. But it is based upon Obama’s own words on war and peace, first in opposition to the invasion of Iraq and more recently in defense of his own Libya policy. And the answer to that question is not an obvious, slam-dunk “no.”
First, Iraq. Obama opposed U.S. invasion in 2003 and I think he was right about that. He explained at an anti-war rally the year before that he might be an odd fit in the peacenik camp. “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars,” then-State Senator Obama intoned. The coming conflict, he warned, would be fought for highly “ideological” reasons and waged “irrespective of the costs in lives lost and hardships borne.”
Of Iraq’s strongman, who at the time was frequently likened to Hitler, Obama said, “He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people would be better off without him. But I also know that Saddam [Hussein] poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors.” He argued for a strategy of containment and warned that “even a successful war against Iraq” would be followed by a long, costly, and unpredictable occupation. It could “fan the flames of the Middle East” and boost al Qaeda. So “dumb wars” are very bad, got it?
Now, Libya. President Obama, recently said that his biggest mistake as president was “probably failing to plan for, the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya.” He explained, “That’s a lesson I now apply when we’re asked to intervene militarily. Do we have a plan for the day after?” In other words: Do we have a plan for the day after we disrupt the peace of nations?
Did he learn nothing from Iraq, after having foreseen so much? Shouldn’t President Obama, as a self-styled thoughtful, smart guy have learned from the previous America action devolving into armed chaos that led to a long occupation, including a re-build-up of U.S. forces for a political salvage mission? As retired general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell put it: you broke it, you bought it. The useful corollary for American presidents and diplomats ought to be: For God’s sake, don’t break it.
What happened in Libya was, we broke it. The U.S., in cooperation with European forces and armed rebels, worked to first limit and then oust and kill the nation’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Like Hussein, Gaddafi had been a “bad guy” who had struck out at American targets in the past. Yet he was even less of a threat to America or his neighbors than was Hussein. He had unilaterally scrapped his country’s nuclear weapons program and worked to restore his nation’s place in the world with better behavior, and largely succeeded.
Didn’t matter. When Gaddafi found himself in pitched battle with armed rebels, Obama and several European powers decided that he had overreacted, that he had struck back too fiercely and targeted too many people, and thus must forfeit his rule. By arms and by air they opposed him, ignoring all warnings that Gaddafi’s enemies might end up being our enemies as well, and then some, when the dust cleared. Gaddafi was cornered and killed and then, about a year later, so were four Americans at our consulate in Benghazi. Things went downhill fast from there. As predicted by critics of the intervention, Libya is currently fertile soil for al Qaeda jihadis, and ISIS as well.
And yet, Obama still maintains that intervention “was the right thing to do.” Whether or not that is the case, it was objectively the dumb thing to do and it calls into question the basic judgment of the person who made that call. Obama once campaigned against “dumb wars.” As president, he hasn’t proven much smarter.
Jeremy Lott is a senior fellow at Defense Priorities.
This article was originally published by The Washington Times on April 20, 2016. Read more HERE.
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