Rob's 5 On It: President Barack Obama's foreign policy mistakes
President Barack Obama ran for office on the slogan, "hope and change." Six years into his presidency, his foreign policy is using the same slogan. Here are five examples.
The strategy in Iraq relies on hope that 300 American military advisers can train and in some cases retrain Iraqi soldiers so they can defend their country against an onslaught from the terrorist group called ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). This is the group that is so nasty al-Qaida distanced themselves from them for killing too many civilians. Yes, al-Qaida was worried about collateral damage.
Obama is also hoping Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki forms a stronger, more inclusive government capable of building a stable Iraq for the long term. The problem is al-Malaki has been prime minister since 2006 and has only managed to crack the fragile religious divisions in Iraq wide open.
Al-Maliki, like the majority of Iraqis, is a Shiite Muslim. As prime minister, he has cracked down on the minority Sunni Muslims throughout Iraq by denying them political rights and, in many cases, jailing scores of Sunni protestors at a time. The Kurds, who control much of northern Iraq, haven't been included in al-Maliki's government either. Obama has dispatched Sec. of State John Kerry to the Middle East to help negotiate a compromise, all while ISIS could grow into the most powerful terrorist group in the world.
Obama did say Thursday he hasn't ruled out targeted and specific airstrikes if necessary. It's just that he hopes it doesn't come to that.
He seems bored by the entire thing.
It was clear from the very beginning Obama wasn't in a rush for the United State to get involved in the Syrian Civil War, partly because it's hard to pick sides.
On one side is the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. On the other side are several different rebel groups. Some of them are fighting to get rid of Assad and free Syria. Other rebel groups are fighting to get rid of Assad because he's not strict enough. One of those groups is ISIS. Currently, they control portions of northern Syria. All while the U.S. stands on the sidelines.
Backtracking for a minute, protests started in Syria in January 2011. Syrians were inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and hoped public pressure would force a regime change. Instead, the Assad regime took after the protests. Government forces turned violent and deadly by March 2011.
Obama hoped for regime change there, but hoped it would be resolved in Syria. Then on Aug. 20, 2012, he seemed to indicate the U.S. would get involved if chemical weapons were used. That day, Obama said: "…a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
After almost exactly a year of constant fighting, Ghouta, Syria, was attacked with rockets containing sarin gas on Aug. 21, 2013. Gruesome images of children suffering after the attacks were all over television. The Obama administration did absolutely nothing after despite setting "a red line" based on chemical weapons.
On Sept. 3, Obama said, "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line." Still the U.S. did nothing. Neither did the world.
In other words, the red line was meaningless. Oh wait, Syria did agree to a June 30 deadline to destroy their chemical weapons. But that deadline won't be met. This isn't about committing U.S. troops to this civil war. It's about not allowing terrorist groups like ISIS to remain unchecked.
Yet, the U.S. doesn't act and Obama, like the Syrian people who started protesting a brutal regime three years ago, hopes it all works out for the best.
Like Iraq, Obama seems in a rush to exit Afghanistan. It makes sense. United States troops have been fighting there since October 2001. The country is war-weary.
Last month, the president made the announcement that all troops, outside of those protecting U.S. embassies, will be home from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. He said:
"I think Americans have learned that it's harder to end wars than it is to begin them. Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century -- not through signing ceremonies but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who are trained to take the lead and ultimately full responsibility."
The Afghani government has to take over at some point, yet this seems like giving up. Afghanistan is in the process of electing a new president after almost 13 years of corrupt leadership from President Hamid Karzai. This Afghani election process seemed smooth at first, but now there are new allegations of fraud that could halt the transition of power.
Meanwhile, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford recently said Afghan troops are not ready to operate on their own without assistance from the U.S. and NATO. Dunford said the Taliban isn't the problem anymore, but a number of extremist groups, including al-Qaida, are coordinating and could potentially step in to fill any power void.
In short, Afghanistan is potentially volatile. In Afghanistan, the president wants to fulfill his campaign promise to exit the country. This will become his legacy. He brought the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Here too he's relying on hope that it all works out, otherwise his legacy will not be as he imagines.
When Russia first indicated a desire to annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, it was clear Obama didn't want to get the U.S. involved. Russian President Vladimir Putin knew this, which is one of the reasons he pressed for a "vote" on annexation (which overwhelmingly passed).
After the vote, the United States did impose sanctions on several powerful Russians but that hasn't stopped Putin's bellicosity towards Ukraine. Russian troops continue to amass at the Ukraine border, again because Putin knows no one is going to do anything to stop him.
This is not about going to war with Russia over Ukraine, it's about taking action that matters to protect "friends" like Ukraine from hostile takeovers. It could be as simple as standing up to Putin. By not standing up to him, it appears Putin is playing chess while Obama is playing checkers.
Worse yet, President Obama looked entirely disinterested in the entire event. "Hope and change."
5) Mexico/Central America
In the past few weeks there have been plenty of headlines about unaccompanied minors showing up at America's borders. Some are calling it a humanitarian crisis as children from Central America sit in holding facilities in Arizona, Texas and elsewhere.
These children have become part of the system now. Each one has to go through the immigration process. Some of the children have come to America hoping to reunite with their parents who are already here in the United States. Others are seeking asylum.
This issue has been brewing since at least 2011, yet there has been minimal leadership from the White House. The Department of Homeland Security won't even answer basic questions about these kids and what will happen to them next.
The media was just granted access to the holding facility in Nogales where 800 or so of these children are being held. Media members weren't allowed into the facility with phones or cameras. Some images have leaked out showing kids sleeping on gym mats using Mylar blankets as cover. The United States was wholly unprepared for this.
At least there are reports Obama has told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto the unaccompanied minors can't stay in America. The White House is also planning to announce a plan to "speed up deportations" of these kids. The plan calls for sending more judges to southern Texas to help weed through the backlog of cases. The White House is also planning on spreading "awareness in Central America about the dangers of trying to enter the United States illegally." The folly gets back to the lack of preparedness in the first place.
Again, Obama seems disinterested in all aspects of foreign policy, including dealing with America's most immediate neighbors with the most immediate issues. Perhaps the president had decided to embrace a Libertarian/isolationist-type foreign policy. If that's the case then say so. Be honest. Make the case that it is best if America doesn't get involved in the affairs of other countries. It sure would beat a strategy of hope and change.
Rob Hunter, Host, Rob & Karie