A town hall event on veterans’ issues on CNN Wednesday night with President Barack Obama proved an emotional evening. The president performed admirably when peppered with tough questions from vets and the survivors of the men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty. But his assessment of the current threat environment and his record as commander-in-chief was untethered to reality.
“There have been critics of mine that have suggested that, well, if early enough, you had provided sufficient support to a moderate opposition, they might have been able to overthrow the murderous Assad regime,” he said. “The problem with that is, as we’ve seen, that Assad regime is supported by Russia, it’s supported by Iran. Because they have not threatened us directly, we would have been violating international law, as it’s understood to just go in there and invade, and unless we were willing to sustain a large presence there and escalate, if and when Russia or Iran got involved, then we were going to be in a situation where at some point, the situation would collapse, except we would have a bunch of folks on the ground and be very much overextended.”
No one but Obama is responsible for that “red line.” He drew in August 2012 it despite the fact that Damascus was an ally of Tehran and a client of Moscow at the time. When that line was repeatedly crossed, it was Obama who withdrew his threat. It was Obama who warned that non-intervention would lead to a future in which U.S. troops faced chemical weapons on the battlefield— a warning that has proven accurate. It was Obama who looked the other way as Iranian military and proxy forces flooded into Syria in his first term, and it was Obama who invited greater direct Russian involvement in that conflict in his second. It was Obama’s desire to partner with these nations for the sake of an Iranian nuclear agreement that stayed his hand
When the discussion turned to Islamist terror, Obama said that “it’s important to recognize that if you look worldwide, the number of terrorist incidents has not substantially increased,” Obama insisted. He should check with his own State Department on that one. The number of terrorist events has risen dramatically every year of his second term in office. One study concluded that terrorist incidents have increased by 800 percent since 2010.
Obama concluded by defending his doctrinal approach to geopolitics, which has been to “lead from behind,” although his White House long ago abandoned that clunky phrase. “[A]t a certain point, our goal has to be, we’ll be your partner, but you guys have to take responsibility,” he said. In practice, this includes rising powers like China, Iran, and Russia who Obama expected would serve as responsible stewards of a post-War geopolitical order from which they benefit as much as does the United States. But these powers declined the opportunity. Unlike Obama, they view the Great Game as zero-sum. They have made the most of a deferential president disinclined to check their designs on their regions.
Perhaps the next president will internalize the lessons that can be gleaned from Obama’s foreign policy failures. He most certainly hasn’t.