The Middle East interventionists are once again ascendant in US foreign policy. President Obama has ordered both the air force and army helicopters into active combat. It is hard to believe Special Forces are not also in combat as air controllers and advisors. At this point there is very little difference between President Obama and President Bush II on the Middle East.
Bush’s biggest mistake was one of geography. He somehow decided that to avenge 9/11 we we had to attack in the Middle East from where Bin Laden recruited many of the worker bee jihadis of 9/11. But the 9/11 attack originated in Asia, in Afghanistan, not the Middle East. It makes no sense now anymore than it did then.
We are told the reason we must turn away from Russian aggression that could lead to nuclear war in Europe and China expanding aggressively in the South China Sea is because ISIS/ISIL will attack the “homeland”. Is there a more loathsome Orwellian term than “homeland”?
The President and Senator McCain are now reading from the same script that defined their differences in 2008 in one of recent history’s ironies. They assure us that jihadis will now attack us if we leave Sunnis and Shiites to stew in their millennia and half civil war.
But of course that has been the case since 9/11. Nothing has changed. Of what use is the giant security apparatus constructed after 9/11 under the same loathsome “homeland” title if it cannot protect us? What use is it if once again the American military is the only solution?
What has changed is the FACT that intervention in the Middle East makes everything worse. It stokes the image of crusaders invading Muslim lands furthering jihadi recruiting and financing. It once again demonstrates that the US is incapable of winning an asymmetric war in support of an unworthy people.
To paraphrase Churchill, by intervening we have sustained an unmitigated defeat. It is the act of intervention in the wrong place that is defeat.
Foreign policy is often defined as interventionist vs. isolationist. John McCain is an interventionist. Rand Paul is an isolationist. But in reality the greatest foreign policy is one not of ideology, but of carefully considered choices.
Reagan chose to focus on the Soviet Union. He chose in very real ways to provoke it at a moment of Soviet weakness that very few others perceived. President Clinton ignored the approbation of journalists and hawks to avoid intervention in the Balkans. Then with a successful Croatian offensive in Bosnia rolling back the Serbs, Clinton introduced the formidable presence of Ambassador Holbrooke, US air power, and heavy American infantry and armored divisions.
It is the act of choosing what conflicts matter. It is the act of asking can we be effective NOW? It is the understanding that some contagions must be quarantined to burn themselves out. That it is heroic sometimes to stand aside even as it may seem dithering and harsh. FDR spent five years dithering until the Japanese attack and Nazi declaration of war. But when Fascism attacked the US, the entire country was behind FDR and the war effort. Because of FDR’s decision not to become involved until the moment of maximum US advantage, tens of millions of Europeans and Asians suffered under Fascism.
But it is about American interests, not the mirage of establishing world peace.
The fight is in the Eastern Ukraine and in the South China Sea. That is where authoritarianism threatens free men and women. It is not in the ideological slave markets of the Middle East. And it is where free people are actively fighting and dying for democracy not the right to slaughter different sects of their own religion.
There is no easy or safe answer. Foreign policy is not poll driven. It is about making the right decisions at the right moments. And for the second presidency in a row we have an incompetent making the wrong decisions at the wrong times.