Short Shrift for National Security and Foreign Policy

by Clifford D. May

President Obama didn’t say much on these critical issues — nor was he asked much.

He seems to believe the deal he made with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad was a success. Essentially, however, it boils down to this: The U.S. told Assad that if he’d stop using chemical weapons to slaughter his people he could slaughter them any other way he likes — and we will turn a blind eye. 

In the final analysis, Assad’s use of chemical weapons has helped save his regime. Dictators around the world have taken note. Meanwhile, lack of American support for Syria’s nationalist opposition created a vacuum that has been filled by al-Qaeda-linked jihadists. In other words: U.S. policy has created a situation in which the U.S. can’t win and can only choose between bad and worse outcomes — or be passive and let whatever happens happen. It did not need to be that way — nor should it.

As for Iraq, the president continues to believe that merely pulling troops out constitutes success. But by not negotiating a SOFA (a Status of Forces Agreement) he has allowed al-Qaeda to resurge in Iraq — with groups there working hand-in-bloody-glove with those in Syria. This creates a dangerous and growing problem in the very heart of the Arab Middle East — one that the administration does not appear even to be attempting to address. 

Obama said that next year the war in Afghanistan will be over. That’s not accurate. Next year others will fight on this battlefield — and if anti-American jihadists prevail, as is not unlikely, they’ll turn their attention to us sooner or later. Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Finally, in response to the penultimate question, the president emphasized his strong opposition to a new Iran sanctions bill — one that would be triggered by Iranian non-compliance with existing obligations or by foot-dragging in talks meant to provide economic relief in exchange for the abandonment of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Many in Congress — on both sides of the aisle — believe Obama’s negotiators need more leverage because Iran’s negotiators have so far been running rings around them.

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