Two years ago, President Barack Obama, days after a surprise visit to Kabul, stood boldly and declared that “the tide of war has turned in Afghanistan” and it is now time to “focus on nation building here at home.” Despite the urgency in those words, actions never followed, and last night, that same president offered remarks that more or less perpetuated America’s longstanding interventionist ideology. The idea that America is some moral beacon, and thus, met with a great “evil” that poses some “threat” to the United States, we must step in to foreign terrain and blow it up.
It’s an ideology that comes at the expense of dealing with many of the ills stateside that require the same level of urgency Obama spoke of in dealing with ISIS/ISIL — a group whose direct threat to Americans still largely reads as relatively small if not completely nonexistent. Some far more qualified to make such an assessment, like Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counter-terrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, already have. Speaking with the New York Times, Benjamin dismissed the public discussion about the ISIS threat to Americans as a “farce,” with “members of the cabinet and top military officers all over the place describing the threat in lurid terms that are not justified.”
Indeed, just because a bunch of clueless cable pundits scream about a monster hiding under America’s bed, it doesn’t mean we have to go off and find it with a few bombs and hundreds of American troops in tow.
In terms of the four-part strategy Obama laid out last night, there is criticism there too. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel appeared on MSNBC immediately following President Obama‘s speech and offered pointed criticism. During his speech, Obama likened the fight against ISIS to the manner in which the United States fought al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia. Engel refuted such a characterization, calling it “wildly off-base” in addition to “an oversimplification of the problem.” Engel pointed out that ISIS controls “an area the size of Maryland.” As for Obama’s boast of utilizing the newly revamped (again) Iraqi army, Engel noted that many living in Sunni villages are “afraid of the Iraqi army” and that essentially “that partner on the ground, in many ways, is a reason that people support ISIS in this country.”
Yet, Obama asserted, “American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region.” Well, the problem with that statement is that they could probably do more for themselves if we hadn’t made such a mess of their country by bolstering Saddam Hussein to power decades ago. Moreover, when Iraqis do often make choices for themselves, if we don’t agree with them, well…air strikes, ground troops, cries of great evil and threats, blah, blah, “USA! USA! USA!”
Now about those Arab partners: Secretary of State John Kerry is presently in Saudi Arabia meeting with various representatives from the region. The Saudi government was kind enough to play host, though if this country were truly about fighting terror, you would think we’d be far more aggressive in our dealings with the Saudi government considering so many of their citizens are responsible for the funding of these various terror groups. Instead, we’re going to bomb Iraq some more and ask Congress to give money to various opposition groups in Syria that we don’t know. You know, ’cause that’s gone so well for America in the past.
I am only 30, but throughout my entire life I have grown up listening to war mongering from president after president. Obama’s address was an exhausting exercise. It was also frustrating, particularly upon hearing Obama argue, “America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.” It was the bedtime story portion of the speech, only I’m too keenly aware that so many Americans woke up to various nightmares today to find any entertainment value in Obama’s fairytale.
Another frustrating sentiment was Obama’s declaration that for “our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden.”
I’m curious as to what these “endless blessings” are. We are better off than many in the world for sure, but as far as that quote in relation to last night’s outlining for more military attraction in Iraq, the “endless blessings” only apply to defense contractors. They’ll get their money and America will try to attain another unspoken goal – pushing back on Iranian influence in Iraq – while “the nation building at home” Obama spoke of two years ago continues to be kicked down the list of priorities on America’s bucket list.