Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 12, 2013

America needs a smarter foreign policy

The Andover Townsman

---- — This week marks 12 years since a bright September morning in 2001 when the world changed for Americans.

Surely there had been earlier attempts, but Sept. 11, 2001, was the day that Islamic fundamentalist terrorism hit not American interests in faraway lands, but in our own country.

The jets that hijackers flew into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania killed nearly 3,000 people and launched the nation into a global battle against terrorists that continues to a lesser degree today.

And while it is undoubtedly true that our vigilance, as our national leaders claim, has stopped several follow-up attacks planned against American targets, many of our efforts in the war on terrorism have been of questionable effectiveness. Over the past two presidential administrations, we have not been very smart about how we have prosecuted this war.

Osama bin Laden is dead. That is to the credit of the administrations of President George W. Bush and President Obama, which both pursued the al-Qaida leader relentlessly. And surely our war in Afghanistan was justified by the need to root out those who provided bin Laden with a base of operations.

But there turns out to have been less justification for our operations in Iraq, costly in both blood and treasure. And our support for uprisings in Libya and Egypt has played into the hands of the very same Muslim fundamentalist fanatics we ought to oppose.

In Libya, we threw our military support and that of our allies behind rebels opposing dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Scarcely any time at all had passed from Gadhafi’s downfall before we were shipping home the bodies of dead Americans killed in an al-Qaida attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi. A year has passed since that attack and the American people still do not have the complete answer they seek on what happened there.

Now, our president and his secretary of state have blundered us to the brink of military intervention in yet another failing Middle Eastern state, Syria, where at least some rebels against President Bashar Assad are affiliated with al-Qaida. Two weeks ago, President Obama was ready to let fly a Tomahawk missile barrage against Syria for its government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, crossing a “red line” that Obama had drawn a year earlier.

But our allies quickly abandoned us and Obama passed the decision to strike on to Congress. With public sentiment strongly against any intervention, it seemed unlikely Congress would approve. The administration’s waffling on such a prominent stage was extraordinarily damaging to our international stature.

Now, Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to back our country into an even more embarrassing position. After trying to assure the international community that a U.S. attack would be “unbelievably small,” he announced that an attack would not be necessary at all if Syria would give up all its chemical weapons to international inspectors within a week.

The proposal was never serious. The State Department began backpedaling from it immediately. However, Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin has opposed U.S. intervention from the beginning, seized on Kerry’s gaffe as the new American policy. Putin’s lapdogs in Syria quickly agreed.

So the Obama administration in the space of two weeks has gone from being on the verge of an imminent attack over what it deemed a humanitarian outrage, to deferring the decision to attack to Congress, to promising only “unbelievably small” action, to facing the prospect of endless Russian-Syrian delays on the “handing over” of Assad’s chemical weapons.

Our national leaders have been played for fools. In the process, they have reduced American power and prestige abroad into something truly “unbelievably small.”