Friday, September 12, 2014

Obama's Foreign Policy Legacy

On Wednesday evening, President Obama spoke on the growing threat of ISIS (I still call it that; he calls it ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). During the event, Obama promised the degradation and eventual destruction of the terrorist organization, and promised more than 400 additional Americans to advise Iraq militarily. Although he mentioned that there was no credible threat directed towards the homeland at the moment, Obama acknowledged the severity of ISIS and warned that if not tempered, it could grow to eclipse the American public.

Obama's announcement, and more profoundly, the past three months in general, have indicated that perhaps President Obama's legacy of non-intervention is about to come to an end. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama promised the removal of troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq. Those wars cost the United States more than a trillion dollars, and exacerbated the economic downturn the U.S. suffered just as Obama was coming into office. More importantly, they claimed American lives - thousands of them. With al Qaeda on its heels, it was time to rethink the way the U.S. fought terrorism and, more importantly, projected itself on the world.

Courtesy of NY Daily News

Sadly, Obama's non-intervention plan has not quite worked. Yes, the U.S. is not and should not be the world's police. However, let's outline the global issues that now pose a threat to our domestic foreign agenda:

  • Ukraine: After nearly a year since protests erupted in Kiev, the country has been fractured, most notably by Russia's seizure of Crimea. Recently, pro-Russian separatists downed a commercial airliner with anti-aircraft weaponry, killing all on board. Today, the battles rage over the eastern part of the country, where the separatists have dug in their heels and refuse to back down.
  • Syria/Iraq: ISIS has taken over vast swaths of land in a frighteningly efficient manner. Their recruitment efforts are effective enough that it appears numerous men and women from the Western world are joining their cause. ISIS has dominated headlines for the past several weeks, but their most powerful headlines were those relating to their gruesome and inhumane executions of two American journalists - both of which they leaked videos of.
  • Africa: My colleague Vieshnavi has done a stellar job of detailing the malaise of Africa in her recent pieces (seriously, go check them out!), so in order to avoid doing her work injustice I will keep it succinct: al Qaeda offshoots and other similar terrorist organizations have seen Africa as the next frontier. Countries like Nigeria and Somalia have experienced an influx in killings associated with Islamic militant cells. The instability associated with this has been stewing on the continent and will only grow more severe if not better tempered.
These are just three examples - across the globe, there are issues at play that threaten President Obama's non-intervention strategy. The question is not so much that such issues have arisen, but how much Obama's avoidance of intervention over the years affected it. Sure, former President George Bush's wars in the Middle East were not the deterrence strategy the world needed, but the lack of appetite for warfare the U.S. has experienced since then has been equally unsuccessful in deterring aggressive acts from hostile nations. 

Therefore, in a sense, the move towards intervention in the Middle East now is a product of Obama's legacy of the last six years. The U.S. has sat idly by for the most part as more than 180,000 have been killed in Syria. Yes, there was a degree of U.S. support in Libya in 2011, but even that was muted. And while it's hard to see how the U.S. could have impacted the outcome, we were merely spectators during the Arab Spring, when we saw citizens across the Middle East rise up and challenge dictators - in several cases, successfully.

Today, there is broadened support for increased U.S. military action. As I wrote in my last piece, much of this is derived directly from the miscalculation on the part of ISIS to broadcast the execution of two innocent American journalists, something that has emboldened the American public and restored the appetite for military justice. Obama has responded appropriately. Increased military strikes on ISIS targets will be an effective mechanism for uprooting the insurgency and, as Obama has said, "degrading" them. And training for Syrian rebels will hopefully bolster the effort to counter Asad's military. However, Obama's reputation of being somewhat of a figurative dove has decisively come to an end. The question now, is what effect the next several months will have on his lasting legacy.

No comments:

Post a Comment