President Obama had a very difficult task yesterday. It wasn’t just the stratospheric expectations for his inaugural address engendered not only by his previous performances but also because of the frenzy whipped up by his sycophants in the press. I doubt whether even something along the lines of the Sermon on the Mount would have been good enough to live up to the build up given him by his cultists in the media.
Obama’s primary task to my mind - what I wanted to hear from him - was a commitment to bring the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a successful conclusion while maintaining the pressure on al-Qaeda around the world.
The sticking point, as always, is to define “success” in Iraq and Afghanistan. I must confess to cringing whenever I hear one of my fellow conservatives praise George Bush for bringing “democracy” to Iraq and how our efforts have created a “strong ally” in the war on terror.
Iraq may be a democracy some day. But it is far from being a free country today and even our own ambassador thinks things are still balanced on a knife’s edge. The situation is much better than it was two years ago but, all things being relative, Iraq is still a violent place that needs American assistance to keep from flying apart at the seams. Also, the latest Freedom House ranking for Iraq, based on very specific criteria is “not free.” Granted it is difficult to create a functioning democracy following so many decades of brutal dictatorship and there is no doubt that there have been some improvements even in the face of violence by terrorists who wish to destabilize the country. But for anyone to claim that Iraq is “free” or even close to being free is being disingenuous or ignorant. Holding elections does not make a nation free or democratic by itself. One glance at Gaza proves that.
We have yet to even see the beginning of the end game in domestic Iraqi politics that will play out among the various factions of Shias as they vie for power. Some of those factions are loyal to Iran or at least look to Iran for protection and leadership. The idea that Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror is still up in the air and it may yet devolve into a religious dictatorship like the one next door. The chances of that happening are ebbing but who can tell?
In short, Iraq is still messy - about what you’d expect from a nation that has gone through what the Iraqis have had to endure these last 6 years. Therefore, a definition of “success” in Iraq at a bare minimum would have to include a functioning Iraqi government capable of handling its own security. The longer we stay on in numbers capable of assisting the Iraqi government in achieving this goal, the better the chance for success. Right now, a clock is ticking on our presence in those kind of numbers with the alarm set to go off by the end of 2011. And it appears Obama wishes to speed things along. Do not be surprised if, after meeting with his military chiefs, the new president sets his own timetable for withdrawal.
In his speech yesterday, Obama said nothing about “success” regarding Iraq or Afghanistan:
We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We’ll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.
Indeed, it is difficult to succeed if one does not wish to. This is especially true in Afghanistan where it is becoming increasingly clear that no positive outcome will be possible there as long as al-Qaeda and the Taliban are using Pakistani territory with impunity to attack NATO troops and train suicide bombers to wreak havoc in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. I will watch with great interest as Obama deals with Pakistan. I predict he will have even less success than President Bush in getting the Pakistanis to reassert sovereignty over their own territory and kick the terrorists out. The post-Musharraf government is disinclined to make the all out effort required to defeat their enemies which means they will be at constant risk of being overthrown themselves either by the military or, less likely, a combination of forces sympathetic to the extremists.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan bleeds. And given the great reluctance most other NATO countries have shown to carry their weight in this war and commit their troops to combat, the burden of “forging a hard earned peace” will fall squarely on the shoulders of the US and the few nations who are already fighting. Will this mean that President Karzai will be forced to treat with the Taliban? He may have little choice if President Obama decides that the war is unwinnable and starts withdrawing US forces.
The key to Obama’s foreign policy can be found in this passage from his speech:
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.
They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
Welcome words for the rest of the world - including our enemies. He is right when he states that our military power alone cannot protect us. But it goes a damn sight farther in doing so than “humility and restraint.” In fact, it appears to me that Obama is saying that “doing as we please” - protecting our own interests first which may not fit his definition of “justness” - is a mistake and that we should be “humble” and practice self-abnegation in abjuring what is in our best interests to show the world we will allow our nose to be blown off to spite our face.
An exaggeration but apropos of what Obama and the New Left have been spouting for years. If there is the stink of self-interest involved in a military action (or any other application of hard power), it is likely to be opposed. Darfur or the Congo is where we should be sending troops thus showing our selflessness to the world. Anyplace where war fighting advances or protects American interests is evil.
Just how “humility and restraint” will do anything besides make liberals feel good that the rest of the world doesn’t despise us anymore because we have subsumed our own interests to some other “higher” interest, including humanitarian goals or perhaps the will of the United Nations escapes me.
And then, there’s the idea that fanatics and thugs were just itching for George Bush to leave office so they could turn over a new leaf in our relations with them:
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
On my radio show last night, Rich Baehr of the American Thinker pointed out that in the last decade we have freed Muslims from persecution and tyranny in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Praytell why is it the United States who should be coming hat in hand to the Muslim world? What more could we possibly do to prove our “respect?” Time for the moderate Muslims to stand up and start reciprocating. That is the true way forward with US-Muslim relations.
And who but a liberal could actually believe that the thugs and fanatics care one whit about “the people” in their countries and what they think? All they care about is if someone looks sideways at the regime, they are lined up against a wall and shot. Being “on the wrong side of history” is an occupational hazard for the Assads, the Castros, the Chavez’s, and the fanatical mullahs of the world. They seem to be surviving just fine, thank you.
And why should any of those peace loving gentlemen “unclench their fist” when they can achieve so much more dealing with a president who wishes to approach them with “humility and restraint?” Most of the animosity directed against America by the brutes of the world is, as Obama points out, manufactured internally in order to justify oppression. Only Iran has broadened their anti-Americanism to include proxies like Hezbullah and, potentially, Hamas. The question remains why should our enemies extend a hand in friendship or even civility? As we have already seen, the inauguration of Obama has changed nothing, altered no positions, softened any hearts.
I will not refer to Obama as naive in deference to my friend and frequent commenter Michael Reynolds who has almost convinced me that the new president has a realistic take on our enemies. But will approaching Iran with “humility and restraint” actually do anything except risk the overture being thrown back in your face with the typical derisiveness demonstrated by the Iranian leadership?
I have a feeling we will find out over the coming months.