On June 29, the first day of Ramadan, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria declared that it had established a caliphate and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, its erstwhile leader, would from now on be known as Caliph Ibrahim and serve as Emir al-Mu’minin, or the commander of the faithful. Al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State cleverly tapped into the lack of political maturity and inexperience of the contemporary ruling cliques in Iraq and Syria, which are universally disliked within and outside the Islamic world.
The prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, central to the political disorder that has poisoned Iraq, wielded authoritarian power in favor of the Shiite majority at the expense of the Sunni minority, stoked sectarian conflict and created a climate in which the militants could gain traction. Exploiting so inept a government with such shamefully fragile convictions, not only did al-Baghdadi assert his authority over all violent Islamists, but he also openly challenged the authority of the rulers of every part of his putative caliphate, which includes the whole Muslim world and then some.
This debacle in Iraq is a political and human catastrophe. And there is a deeply conflicted political response within the U.S. to President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw all military personnel from Iraq and Syria. The 46th vice president of the United States under President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, wrote a scathing opinion editorial titled “The Collapsing Obama Doctrine,” which was published in the Wall Street Journal June 17. To quote Cheney, “When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al-Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”
Until such time when the world is relatively more at peace, the only choice the Islamic countries have is to either engage in violence or become nonexistent. As commander in chief of the strongest military forces in the world, it is Obama’s duty to provide as much help as is within his power to all those who seek it. Taking into consideration his own country’s security as well, it would be in his best interest to strategically station troops in places where they will be able to most efficiently combat the terrorist organizations and ax them at their source.
But looking at it from the standpoint of a military officer, would it be prudent for the commander to send his army to battle in a country whose own troops are too cowardly to care for their people’s safety? Will the lives lost fighting for a steadily imploding country with poor governance be worthwhile? Obama can look to his administration, which though admittedly a little inept for council, can guide him. But the ultimate decision falls on his shoulders.
Quoted in Dean Acheson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, “Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department,” former Secretary of State and two-time Secretary of War Henry Stimson made an acutely accurate observation when he said, “Until a president leads, he can’t expect the people to voluntarily take the initiative in letting him know whether or not they would follow him if he did take the lead.”
What the president needs to realize is that these are trying times and simply going with the flow of public opinion is not going to get him any results. He needs to make the tough decisions, make them fast and make them strong and be secure in the knowledge that his country will be better for them. According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Obama’s approval rating is tied for the lowest point in his presidency. His foreign policy ratings are abysmal and it is not because he’s making wrong choices, it’s simply because he’s not standing by his choices — showing no strength in his convictions.
It has been said, “War does not determine who is right — only who is left.” To resuscitate the reality of war is indeed a devastating proposition to even consider, but the alternative is much worse; just think of how it would feel if the administration backing the most powerful man in the free world would realize that in hindsight war might have been the less catastrophic of two evils. The director of operations at the Applied Informatics Group and the Cybersecurity Institute at Drexel University and a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force, who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Norman Balchunas was kind enough to share his thoughts on the matter and in his opinion, “A perfect world doesn’t exist. President Obama is trying very hard to implement a foreign policy strategy that is torn between isolationism and intervention in support of human rights.
When we consider the different facets that influence the president’s foreign policy decisions — the national security strategy, the national military strategy and the quadrennial defense review — we realize that that there is a lot more that goes into the decision-making process than we originally thought. But America has lost credibility over the years and it is heartbreaking to see 20 years of investment of trillions of dollars and the treasure of blood and sweat being driven to the ground toward a potentially ruinous end.”
Today, Obama finds himself in Jorge Luis Borges’ “garden of forking paths” and we can only hope, for his sake and for ours, that he follows in the footsteps of Dr. Tsun’s genius and proves to his people that he doesn’t simply talk a good game; he brings it.
Meghna Malhotra is a freshman software engineering major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected]