Recently President Obama has faced some of the most difficult foreign policy decisions in the in recent memory. The difficulties stem from the lack of good choices for solving the problems America confronts, especially in the Middle East.
The first decision he had to make was whether to materially help the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While everyone agreed that Assad had to go, the opposition forces consisted of many different groups including several classified as terrorist organizations, including the group currently known as ISIS or ISIL. Our intelligence found it difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys and even if you identified the good guys and provided them with modern weapons, there was the real possibility that those weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists.
When ISIS invaded Iraq the decision on whether to assist the government of Nouri al-Maliki was fraught with peril. At the time it appeared that ISIS could conquer all Iraq and much of the Middle East. Chose not to help and this ruthless group might achieve their goal of setting up a radical Islamic state from which they could and would wage a war of terrorism on the western world. However, if we went to the aid of Maliki’s forces we would be essentially taking the side of a man who we didn’t think was fit to rule Iraq. More over we would forever alienate the Sunni population in Iraq which had temporarily allied themselves with ISIS against their common enemy, the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad.
Now the President is faced with the choice of whether to authorize air strikes against the ISIS forces in Syria. If those forces remain untouched by our air power, ISIS will continue to operate unmolested in the area they control in Syria, reinforcing and rearming their fighters in Iraq at will. On the other hand strikes against ISIS in Syria could strengthen the hand of Assad to again take control of his entire country, something we don’t want to happen.
While making all of these extremely difficult decisions President Obama has been consistently thoughtful and logical, taking into consideration all available facts and opinions. In these situations, where there are no good choices, only seemingly less harmful ones, I think he had done very well. There has also been another consistency in all of these situations, Republicans leaders have been consistently critical of the President. However, since they have never ceased to find fault with anything he does or doesn’t do, they would have found fault with whatever decisions he made or how quickly or deliberately he made them. Their criticisms of the President’s foreign policy are but a part of their larger strategy – constantly chip away at the President’s credibility and favorability with the American public and in the process increase the Republican Party’s chances of winning future elections, including the very important upcoming midterm House and Senate elections..
There is an old axiom; “politics should always end at our country’s boundaries”. However, that has never been the case. The political opponents of even our earliest Presidents didn’t always agree with their foreign policy decisions and those who disagreed were usually not shy about saying so. Every President in our history had his foreign policy critics, and that is how it should be. There is always room for honest disagreement and debate in our democracy. I believe that what the old saying really means that politics just for the purpose of trying to tear down your opponent should end at our country’s boundaries. That puts the emphasis on “honest disagreement” and that is what many of the President’s Republican critics are lacking.
It there have been a never ending group of Republican politicians parading before the news network cameras, all harshly critical the President’s foreign policy decision, but almost never describing what they would do instead. There is a good reason for that. When situation offer no good alternatives it is easy to attack the decision maker no matter which option he chooses. However, if the critics offer up what they believe would have been better alternatives, they put themselves in the position of having to defend equally bad options. So the Republican politicians only bitch and moan about what the President is doing and avoid at all costs stating what they would done instead.
One morning several days ago I watched a Republican congressman – I didn’t catch his name or recognize him (so he probably isn’t very important) – interviewed on CNN. This guy spent the entire time offering general criticism of President Obama’s decision making in the Middle East. Regardless of how many times he was asked different specific questions he keep answering with the same critical narrative which is obviously the standard Republican line. Towards the end of the interview the CNN host asked him four times in a row, “Okay, but what would you have done differently?” Each time the politician artfully deflected the question (don’t you love how politicians avoid questions they don’t want to answer) and returned to the same critical narrative he had been spouting before. That’s not honest disagreement, that’s just political BS.
Unfortunately, most Republican politicians follow the strategy of the congressman described above, though perhaps in a less clumsy, less obvious manner. There only a few Republicans who have had the guts to categorically state what they would do in if they were in the President’s shoes and one of them is John McCain. I like old John, and I respect his service and sacrifice for our country, but if we had elected him President six years ago we would probably now be deeply involved in the wars in Syria and the Ukraine, our troops would have never left Iraq, and we would still have a hundred thousand men in Afghanistan.
At a time when our nation faces very difficult situations around the globe, we would be well served if our politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, presented a united front to our enemies and the rest of the world, especially when our nation’s security is at stake. Instead Republican leaders air our dirty laundry to the world for our enemies to try to exploit, all for the sake of making a few political points. And they pride themselves on being American patriots. With patriots like that, who needs enemies?