The one constant from a pack of GOP senators, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, failed GOP Republican Presidential candidate John McCain and Mitt Romney and the usual suspect legion of right wing bloggers, websites, and writers has been that President Obama's foreign policy is a mess. They greedily snatched his quip about having "no strategy" for dealing with ISIS out of context and finger pointed this as further proof that Obama has been a miserable failure in dealing with any Middle East issue.
It's of course bunk. A quick glance at the checklist of Obama's foreign policy moves and positions shows that he's launched measured but effective strikes against ISIS in Iraq, a similar strike against the top leadership of a terrorist group in Somalia, and has backed every sanction imposed by the European Union on Russia for its assault on the Ukraine. His most deft move, and the one that perennially gives ammunition to Obama's chronic foes, is his refusal to do what Bush disastrously did and send in the troops--anywhere. This didn't work with Bush and it wouldn't work with him if he tried. There's absolutely no realistic alternative to the Middle East warfare and Russia's Ukraine assault then to develop a policy that's based on regional cooperation and coalition building in Europe and the Middle East. Obama has done that through continued open line talks, negotiations, defense pacts and treaties with NATO, and strategic aid to the Ukraine and moderate religious groups in Syria and Iraq. The cease fire the US and the EU brokered between Russia and the Ukraine is the first payoff of Obama's coalition approach to dealing with foreign policy issues.
Still, it will take time and patience before the gains of this sane approach to foreign policy can be measured. It's not necessary to engage in bellicose chest thumping and saber rattling to get the point across that the U.S. will play a strong role in trying to contain Russian expansion and the entrenchment of a terrorist state in Iraq and Syria. This hot air approach would do just the opposite and only pour more fuel on the fire. The ultimate proof of this is Bush. After pouring in tens of thousands of troops, tens of millions of dollars and weaponry, and wasting several thousand American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, he admitted in a rare moment of candor that Muslim strife could not be solved by the U.S. but by Muslims themselves. A decade after the mass of American forces pulled out of Iraq, that Bush epiphany has never been more obvious.
The hit on Obama as a foreign policy disaster has nothing to do with his alleged foreign policy failures but the GOP's eternal political sale job on Obama as a hopelessly greenhorn, novice on foreign policy matters. A novice who would the first time a crisis arose jeopardize America's security and put Americans in harm's way. GOP presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in 2004 in his reelection fight with Democratic presidential foe Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents.
The GOP strategists believed that the soft-on-terrorism, rank amateur on foreign policy smear would work even better on Obama. He was a liberal Democrat, untested in foreign policy matters, had made conciliatory remarks about Islam, was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War, and unstated, he was African-American. This supposedly made him vulnerable to the sneaky and borderline racial suspicions among many that question the patriotism of blacks. The smear didn't work.
Obama knew the history of how the GOP used the soft-on-terrorism ploy to discredit Democrats. He moved quickly to counter the fable and his many successes during the past years for a time forced GOP leaders into pained silence. He stood as a Democratic president that got results in the war against terrorism, and more galling consistently got high marks from European, Chinese and Russian leaders for his tact and diplomacy.
But the GOP had not forgotten, nor forgave, his Cairo University speech in 2009 in which he extended the hand of cooperation and alliance to the Arab world. They saw his cautious support of the Arab Spring as fraught with potential peril, and took every opportunity to hammer hard on his alleged hostility to Israel, and pro-Palestinian tilt, and for not taking a neo-Cold War line in dealing with the Russians. None of this marked Obama even remotely as a president whose foreign policy initiatives were adrift, and who was setting America up for a fall, since his foreign policy successes spoke for themselves and satisfied a majority of the public.
ISIS, let alone Russia, can be defeated with American troops, tanks, and missiles on the ground and in the air. The GOP knows that. But with Obama's approval numbers plunge, and the mid-term elections looming big, the rise of ISIS and Russia's grab at the Ukraine, the timing is seemingly perfect for it to try and again tar Obama and his foreign policy initiatives as weak and dangerous no matter the truth.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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