Despite what some Republicans and neo-conservatives claim, Obama is plenty militaristic. That’s part of the problem in the region, not the best solution
Nothing sums up the warped foreign policy fantasy world in which Republicans live more than when House Speaker John Boehner recently called Obama an “anti-war president” under which America “is sitting on the sidelines” in the increasingly chaotic Middle East.
If Obama is an anti-war president, he’s the worst anti-war president in history. In the last six years, the Obama administration has bombed seven countries in the Middle East alone and armed countless more with tens of billions in dollars in weapons. But that’s apparently not enough for Republicans. As the Isis war continues to expand and Yemen descends into civil war, everyone is still demanding more: If only we bombed the region a little bit harder, then they’ll submit.
In between publishing a new rash of overt sociopathic “Bomb Iran” op-eds, Republicans and neocons are circulating a new talking point: Obama doesn’t have a “coherent” or “unifying” strategy in the Middle East. But you can’t have a one-size-fits-all strategy in an entire region that is almost incomprehensibly complex – which is why no one, including the Republicans criticizing Obama, actually has an answer for what that strategy should be. It’s clear that this new talking point is little more than thinly veiled code for we’re not killing enough Muslims or invading enough countries.
Nobody will say that they want US troops on the ground to fight Isis, of course, since public support for such action is crumbling.
But as the Council on Foreign Relations’ Douglas Dillon Fellow Micah Zenko tweeted recently, “If 30 years of US as military hegemon in the Middle East resulted in the region today, why would more suddenly stabilize things?” No one seems to be willing to face the stack fact that US involvement is as much the cause of the instability as it is the alleged solution.
AdvertisementThose clamoring for more war are detached from reality: the US is already escalating – not pulling back – its involvement across the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the president has quietly delayed pulling US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year so they can continue special forces raids and drone strikes, despite loudly celebrating the supposed “end” of combat operations during the State of the Union in January. In Iraq, US forces escalated its airstrikes in the so-called battle to re-take Tikrit, which the New York Times editorial board decried as a folly, but received scant scrutiny elsewhere. The Pentagon also confirmed last week that they expect the Isis war to last “3+ years.”
And if you think the United States is sitting on the sidelines in Yemen just because it’s not US planes physically launching the missiles (yet), you should have your head examined. The US has given Saudi Arabia an astronomical $90bn in military equipment and weapons over the past four years and, as the Washington Post reported, it will play a “huge” role in any fighting. US drones are also still patrolling Yemeni skies and even helping Saudi Arabia “decide what and where to bomb”, according to the Wall Street Journal.
What would his critics have Obama do in Yemen, for example? He had already authorized dozens of drones strikes over the years (which backfired and many people think strengthened al-Qaida). He gave the Yemeni government $500mn in heavy weaponry and military gear, all of which is now completely unaccounted for and likely in the hands of US enemies.
This is America’s modus operandi in the Middle East: give its friends a ton of weapons and watch the weapons fall into enemy hands one way or another. In Afghanistan, the US gave the Afghanistan government nearly 500,000 weapons that are now unaccounted for (and that was a couple years ago). In Libya, shipments of arms reportedly sent by the CIA to Libyan rebels in 2011 via the Qataris ended up, in many cases, in the hands of Islamic militants, as the New York Times reported. Neither stopped the Obama administration from arming rebels in Syria, where many of the weapons promptly fell into enemy hands as well.
Virtually every month in Iraq, another large cache of US weapons ends up being commandeered by Isis or al-Qaida, either from Iraqi soldiers abandoning all the arms the US has given them over the past decade or from US air drops that land in enemy hands, as we saw in September, October, November, February, and a couple times in March. Isis has commandeered so many US weapons that there’s even a Buzzfeed photo listicle about it.
Photographer Gregg Carlstrom succinctly summed it up last week as Saudi Arabia started to drop bombs on Yemen: “US praises US ally for bombing US-equipped militia aligned with US foe who is partnering with US to fight another US-equipped militia.”
It’d be nice if the public debate over America’s role in the Middle East even acknowledged our culpability for some of the problems in the region, rather than steamroll over it on the way to war in yet another country.