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Foreign Policy Follies

Updated on September 30, 2014


Watching the U.S. sink deeper and deeper into the Middle East quagmire, much of which is of our own making, one cannot but think of a term the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart employs a lot these days: clusterf**k. Hard to argue with that. While our current president must take his share of the blame, he has just been continuing a shameful tradition, which began after World War II. Why would any Middle Eastern country trust us? We have overthrown democratically elected governments (Iran in 1953) to keep the oil flowing; propped up numerous dictators in the name of stability, who abuse their own people, keeping them in poverty, while enriching themselves; provided truckloads of weapons to anyone who seems to want them, with the ridiculous result of U.S. troops being fired upon by American built ordinance.

Our missteps in this volatile region can perhaps be traced to several causes. First, our dependence on foreign oil, instead of developing alternate fuel sources, has required a much larger commitment there than we should have. Second, the tremendous increase in presidential power to start conflicts and orchestrate other dubious actions without constitutional restraint since 1945. The last time a president asked Congress for a declaration of war took place on December 8, 1941 (FDR’s famous Day of Infamy speech after Pearl Harbor). How many wars have we fought since then? Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq( currently in our third go-round there), Afghanistan, and Syria. That is not counting the innumerable minor skirmishes we have gotten ourselves into, and the illicit activities of the CIA all over the world the past 60 years or so.

The Founding Fathers were wise in establishing the war-making power as a collaborative effort between the president and Congress. One taken only after careful deliberation, with both Houses voting on the resolution, and the president signing it. Thus, armed conflict would not be undertaken lightly, without healthy debate on why we are going to war and what it hopes to accomplish. Under the guise of national security, presidents since Harry Truman have run roughshod over the Constitution’s war powers clause, with nearly the full acquiescence of Congress every step of the not-so-merry way.

We have heard often how the world changed after 9/11. Unfortunately, George W. Bush’s response to the disaster only magnified the abuse of presidential power to sickening degrees. Where did the commander-in-chief receive the authority to set-up secret internment camps, permit the torture of prisoners, and basically outsource certain military operations to private companies, which are no better than mercenaries, and under little or no control? Al-Qaeda declared war on the U.S. in the 1990’s, and carried out attacks against us, culminating in the murder of 3,000 of our fellow citizens on our own soil. Even then, Bush did not feel the need to ask for a declaration of war, and we have suffered the consequences since- over a trillion dollars spent in both Afghanistan and Iraq; thousands of service people killed or wounded; veterans returning home to the neglect of a criminally inept VA; a disconnect between the country at large and the people who protect them.

By not declaring war, the nation is not united in a common effort and shared sacrifice. Those fighting are almost forgotten, and come mostly from the less fortunate. During World War II, everyone was subject to the draft, rich and poor alike, with no exemptions. Thus, everybody had a stake in the conflict. Engaging in these endless undeclared struggles has also resulted in the ludicrous specter of the U.S. unilaterally announcing that wars are over. Mr. Bush did it for Iraq (Mission Accomplished!), as did Mr. Obama, along with the conflict in Afghanistan. Obviously nobody told ISIS the war in Iraq had ended, and the same thing for the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the close of this year, will they lay down their arms because we said the war is over? Maybe if we ask nicely.

Sadly, President Obama has worked himself into quite a pickle in the Middle East, primarily due to his own overblown rhetoric. When civil war broke out in Syria two years ago, Mr. Obama pronounced numerous times that Dictator Assad must go. He did not, however, back up his words with any help for the Syrian rebels. This non-response had several negative consequences: Assad felt emboldened to use chemical weapons against his own people, and an agreement to discard them said nothing about him stepping down from power; Vladimir Putin (Assad’s biggest backer) may have been encouraged for his escapades in the Ukraine; ISIS was able to gain traction in Syria, before striking into Iraq. The president found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse offers of help in defeating ISIS from both Assad and our arch nemesis in the area, Iran. What a tangled web we weave.

Now Mr. Obama is scrambling around, trying to build a coalition to combat this greatest threat to our security ever (in the words of the administration), but at the same time, refusing to consider sending U.S. troops to back-up the air strikes. So far no other country has agreed to “put boots on the ground”, and who could blame them. The president is pinning his hopes on the “moderate” Syrian rebels, a group which until recently, he had been derisively dismissing, and the Iraqi army, who ran away the first time they faced ISIS. The White House and mainstream news, however, have been touting as historic the fact 5 Muslim nations joined in the bombing campaign (a quick glance at the past and present- some Muslims trying to kill other Muslims- nothing novel there). Meanwhile, members of Congress are tripping over themselves to get in front of a camera, broadcasting loudly what a menace ISIS is, and the need to act. Those mid-terms elections sure put a sense of urgency into Congress. They even gave Mr. Obama the $500 million he asked for to train the Syrian rebels. Exactly who are these rebels is a bit murky, as technically even ISIS could fit into the category. Might we have another hand-off of our equipment to the enemy, like the Iraqi army so generously provided to ISIS. Not out of the question.

To compound this tragedy, the same week Congress announced the aid package to the rebels, a report came out stating that 45 million Americans are living in poverty, and worse, 1 in 5 children reside below the poverty line. Contrast that with the astronomical sums we have already spent in the Middle East, and will continue to waste, with peace and stability there no closer than in 2001. The Founding Fathers hoped we would only go to war in self-defense, and be fully united when we did. Warfare by its very nature is unlimited. Attempting to manage “limited wars” against opponents who view them as limitless is futile. Mr. President and members of Congress, declare war on ISIS and bring the full power of the U.S. to bear or bring our forces home, all of them. Let the people of the Middle East work out their own troubles. We have enough of them at home to keep us more than busy.


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