RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., June 16, 2014 – With the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marching on Baghdad, President Obama took bold and decisive action: He tried to reach the green at Sunnylands with a 7 iron from 180 yards. Much like his foreign policy, it fell well short.
That is not a “typo” in the title. The President of the United States spent this weekend giving a commencement speech, attending yet another Democratic fund-raiser, and playing golf in Palm Springs. For those who are inclined to lecture others about how the President deserves a vacation, please consider that there is a time and place for everything. We have a right to expect the President to do his job, particularly during a time of global unrest.
It was reported that President Obama had been in contact with National Security Advisor Susan Rice and requested that she keep him apprised of what was transpiring in Iraq. We can only assume that she was also asked to keep him informed about Ukraine as well since pro-Russian rebels shot down a military transport plane to cap the bloodiest day of fighting since that rebellion began.
Luckily, the President can count on Advisor Rice to use the same sharp assessment skills she brought to her analysis of the consulate attack in Benghazi and her recent judgment of Sgt. Bergdahl’s exemplary military service. Given that the President didn’t consider the former to be important enough to personally monitor in the Situation Room as it was transpiring and that he celebrated the second with a ceremony in the Rose Garden, it would appear that Advisor Rice and he share similar mindsets.
In the absence of a discernible foreign policy, it would seem that ISIS’ march on Bagdad might merit President Obama’s personal attention. Then again, he probably had already committed to give the commencement speech, attend the fund-raiser, and play a round of golf much like he had committed to attend two fund-raisers in Las Vegas for his re-election campaign less than 24 hours after the attack in Benghazi began. Perhaps, we should take pride in the fact that he obviously is a man of his word.
However, one might legitimately question President Obama’s apathetic approach toward the job he was elected to do. One need not be a Conservative to question the President’s priorities. Liberals and Independents should question them as well.
The President has given more speeches, remarks, and press conferences than he has spent days in Office. Would the impasse in Congress be as great if he were as engaged in breaking it as he has been in criticizing it?
While the President lectures about Climate Change and denigrates those who disagree with his position (i.e., referring to them as “flat Earthers” and “climate deniers”), he often does so by flying around the country (as he did this past week). Should he not be expected to reduce his own carbon footprint by using traditional media outlets and social media platforms to spread the word?
Should we not also question whether his interminable fund-raising schedule complies with the first part of his Oath of Office (i.e., “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States”)? Is fund-raising truly a part of any President’s fundamental duties? It certainly has nothing to do with the second half of the Oath in which each President swears to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Keep in mind: You pay for the fund-raising trips. You pick up the tab for Air Force One (at $181,000 per operating hour) as well as for Marine One, the Beast (the armored Presidential limousine), the motorcades, Secret Service and other event security, the President’s advance team, staging costs, and the travel, hotel, and food costs of the massive entourage that accompanies the President on these trips. Try to keep that in mind the next time you hear a speech about raising the minimum wage.
As an example: This past weekend, President Obama flew approximately 5,400 miles. The use of Air Force One alone cost taxpayers about $1.6 million. That would fund over 7.5 years of minimum wage employment at $10.10 per hour. Was it money well spent? You decide.
Of course, the President could have remained at the White House and become personally involved in plotting our course with respect to the insurgency in Iraq. Bizarrely enough, in his absence, Iran offered to protect the Iraqi government we left behind.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel repositioned the USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf. If that proves to be important, you may rest assured it will be proclaimed to have been the President’s decision. Otherwise, it will be the Secretary’s (as occurred with respect to the five-for-one Taliban prisoner swap for Sgt. Bergdahl once public favor for the decision began to sour).
Inconsistency appears to be the hallmark of this Administration’s “lead from behind” approach to foreign policy.
After almost nine years of fighting and the loss of nearly 5,000 American lives, we failed to successfully negotiate a status of forces agreement before withdrawing from Iraq. This led to that country’s current state of vulnerability.
In fairness, we did provide the Iraqi military with weapons and equipment, and we attempted to train them. However, our Administration’s geopolitical naiveté was underscored by its Pollyannaish belief that a democratic form of government had truly been installed and that the Iraqi military would defend it. Guess what is going to happen in Afghanistan after we withdraw from it?
This isn’t to say that we should have lingered so long in Iraq or Afghanistan. We should have had defined missions in both countries and left as soon as those missions were completed. Unfortunately, we continued to follow our failed pastime of “nation-building” as if every country should be created in our image.
What makes the current aggression in Iraq interesting is that we not only supplied the Iraqi military with many of its weapons and equipment, but we also did the same for ISIS.
You see after our air strikes helped Libyan rebels overthrow and assassinate Muammar al-Gaddafi, weapons began migrating from that country to the rebels in Syria. There is speculation that the United States may have even been supplying weapons for that purpose.
Meanwhile in Syria, the better-trained troops among the rebel forces trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were al-Qaeda affiliates or members of other extremist groups. Can you guess who ultimately acquired the weapons flowing from Libya? Apparently, our Administration could not.
Then, President Obama drew a “red line in the sand” over the use of chemical weapons in Syria. After more than a dozen additional chemical attacks occurred, one of them gained sufficient media coverage to force the President to “change (his) calculus.” We were set to light up the Syrian night with massive missile attacks until Russia intervened.
Since then, the Administration has been delivering light weapons and non-lethal gear (e.g., advanced communications and medical assets) to “moderate” rebel groups in Syria in an attempt to curry favor with them should they successfully topple the Assad regime. Congress has even considered escalating the level of weapons to include surface-to-air missiles, etc. What could possibly go wrong with that scenario?
It should be noted that the most powerful anti-Assad factions are militant groups such as ISIS, which is so extreme that it has been denounced by al-Qaeda. Let that sink in for a few moments before you continue.
As you might expect, “moderate” rebel groups find it difficult to say “no” to ISIS and its ilk. Similarly, many members of the Iraqi Army abandon their equipment, drop their weapons, and run when ISIS approaches. Guess who scoops up the leftovers and gains strength? Now, guess who paid for all those goodies?
We apparently have done an excellent job of equipping ISIS as it is moving through Iraq almost as quickly as our troops did. Of course, there was greater opposition when we invaded because there was a strong government in place and the Iraqi military was committed to defending it.
For those who would argue that it was necessary to go to war with Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a despotic dictator, keep in mind who funded his emergence and supplied his army with weapons. If you need a hint, it is the same country that supported Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Mohammad Rezâ Pahlavi in Iran (among others) in hopes of garnering new allies in the region… much as it hopes to do again if it can influence the replacement of old regimes with new ones in Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc.
Correspondingly, “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and al-Qaeda is on the run” is a campaign slogan rather than evidence of a cogent foreign policy. In many ways, al-Qaeda is a greater threat today than it was on September 11, 2001. It has metastasized and is no longer headquartered in one area or maintained in one form.
Beyond that, groups like ISIS have now been spawned and we are indirectly arming them. What sense does that make?
We need leadership and a clear foreign policy. Given President Obama’s seeming disinterest in either, perhaps we need to frame the issue differently.
Dear Mr. President:
We are in the deep rough and desperately need you to play the right shot. While you’ve gotten out of a lot of bad lies in the past, you can’t rely on your luck to continue.
If you play this too strong, we could all end up in a bunker. If you play it too weak, we could end up in a trap. If you play it too far left or too far right, we’re guaranteed to lose.
So, take all the elements into account. Then, don’t just take a swing at it. Know how you want to play it, where you want to land it, and how it will finish.
Giving a speech about what you’re going to shoot isn’t the same as actually doing it. At the end of the day, there will be a scorecard that tells the tale.
We hope you’re using the new balls you said you had in 2008 and 2012 because, so far, we haven’t seen them. And remember: You need an Eagle to win.
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).