President Barack Obama has argued his nation shouldn’t be policing the Middle East nor end up as “governors” of the region. “That would be a bad strategy,” he told CBS News’ 60 Minutes.
The American president was responding to critics who say his policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, and “leading from behind” in Libya when Arab and Western powers intervened there in 2011, is tantamount to throwing in the towel.
Obama, who was elected on an antiwar platform in 2008 and is due to be replaced next year, warned against sending “another 100,000 or 200,000 troops” back into the Middle East — “into Syria or back into Iraq or perhaps into Libya, or perhaps into Yemen.”
America occupied Iraq from 2003 to 2011 with 165,000 troops at its peak. It is due to leave nearly 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for the next few years.
Yet all the states Obama listed are currently in turmoil.
Leading from behind
The United States have armed and financed opposition forces in Syria against the Iranian- and Russian-backed dictator, Bashar Assad — to little avail.
In Iraq and Yemen, by contrast, Obama’s administration supports conservative forces and their allies — notably Saudi Arabia — in fights against radical Islamists and Iranian-allied insurgents, respectively.
The international intervention in Libya helped topple the North African country’s eccentric tyrant, Muammar Gaddafi, but left no central authority in his place. Two camps have been warring for supremacy since he fell with an Islamist presence in the middle.
Obama’s comments on Sunday would seem to corroborate what The American Interest‘s Adam Garfinkle argued earlier this month, when he suggested that the president’s policy in the Middle East is one of “offshore balancing.”
He thinks the United States is overinvested in the Middle East and underinvested in Asia. He thinks that if the United States stops acting like a control freak with a Cold War hangover and just gets out of the way in several parts of the world, we’ll end up with a foreign policy that is less dangerous (no chain-ganging via obsolete alliances into wars in which we have no vital interests), less expensive (no need for that vast foreign basing footprint or hugely expensive defense budget) and less a distraction from vital needs for reform here at home.
The president’s priority, Garfinkle argued, is keeping the United States safe from terrorist attacks. Hence his “take-no-prisoners” approach to drone strikes of suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen — to the desperation of some of his more dovish, left-wing supporters.
Having it both ways
Obama seemed to confirm that as well, saying, “In terms of us protecting ourselves against terrorism,” America is stronger than it was when he took office.
But he also argued that his government remains committed to the Middle East where the United States have an “enormous presence.”
We have bases and we have aircraft carriers. And our pilots are flying through those skies. And we are currently supporting Iraq as it tries to continue to build up its forces.
That makes it sound as if he’s trying to have it both ways.