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President Obama Likely To Leave World In As Bad A Shape As He Found It, If Not Worse

Barack Obama

During his run for the White House, President Obama ran as a very strong critic of the foreign policy that had governed the United States since the September 11th attacks some seven years earlier. As a candidate for the Democratic nomination, for example, one of his most effective weapons against Hillary Clinton was her vote in favor of the Iraq War in 2002, a war he had spoken out against even before he was a candidate for the Senate in Illinois. During both the primary campaign and the General Election, he criticized Clinton and Republicans for backing the “wrong war” in Iraq and ignoring the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, promising that were he to become President he would continue and accelerate the process of winding down American involvement in Iraq that the Bush Administration had already started while turning the military’s attention to Afghanistan and the fight against international terrorism. It was a message that resonated well with Democratic voters and with general voters and, along with the state of the economy and general public disdain toward Republicans in the wake of the a Bush Administration widely viewed at the time as largely a failure, it was enough to propel him to victory.

At least in the beginning, the President was able to deliver on many of his foreign policy promises. The withdrawal process in Iraq picked up pace under his watch, especially after the Iraqis proved unwilling to enter into a Status of Forces Agreement that would cover any troops that might remain in Iraq after the end of 2011. By the end of December 2011, the last American troops had left Iraq just over eight and a half years after the war had started. In Afghanistan, the President backed a surge operation intended to concentrate the fight against the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies and stepped up counter-terror operations in the area. The biggest success in that area, of course, came in May 2011 with the announcement that a special forces raid on a home in Pakistan had resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden himself. In addition, for a time at least, the fight in Afghanistan itself seemed to be going well, and other efforts to take out al Qaeda affiliates in places such as Yemen were proving successful. Indeed, when the Obama/Biden ticket ran for re-election in 2012, the success against al Qaeda had become a central part of the campaign’s message.

Now, as Greg Jaffe notes at The Washington Post, President Obama seems likely to leave behind a foreign policy legacy that is far from what he promised when running for office:

Obama began his second term having brought one war in Iraq to an end and pledging to bring home America’s ground troops from a second in Afghanistan. To that end he set hard limits on U.S. deployments and firm time frames for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Before deploying forces, Obama would regularly demand that his commanders explain the “theory of the case” behind the moves. The phrase is evocative of the president’s legal training and his deep skepticism that U.S. military power can bring lasting change to broken societies. He wanted assurances that the operations would work as intended as well as coherent explanations of how and when they would end.

As he nears the end of his presidency, Obama faces the prospect that he will leave office with ground forces deployed to three combat zones.

Last month, the president said he would keep 5,500 ground troops in Afghanistan to advise struggling Afghan army and to pursue the remnants of al-Qaeda. In Iraq and Syria, the president has incrementally boosted the U.S. force, beginning an initial deployment of several hundred troops to Iraq in 2014, after Iraqi army forces in Mosul were overrun by Islamic State fighters. The president sent 450 more American trainers and advisers after Iraqi forces were routed at Ramadi by a much smaller Islamic State force in the spring.

Those forces were supposed to work with the Iraqi army and local tribal fighters to plan an offensive on Ramadi that has largely stalled. “We have four axes converging on Ramadi, and on any given day, none of them makes any movement at all,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the war planning.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, Obama in July made a rare visit to the Pentagon to push Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and his top commanders for options to increase the intensity of U.S. military operations without putting U.S. troops in a direct combat role.

More ambitious and costly measures such as no-fly zones or buffer zones that would require tens of thousands of ground troops to effectively protect civilians were rejected. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that she favors a no-fly zone in Syria. Other riskier proposals, such as the introduction of Apache helicopters or combat advisers who would move closer to the front lines and call in airstrikes or bolster the Iraqi attack on Ramadi, weren’t explicitly rejected but were deemed unnecessary for now.

The president’s final decision balanced his desire for the United States do more with his determination to keep American forces from being pulled too deeply into conflicts in which U.S. effectiveness was limited or where there were no clear military solutions.

Jaffe’s observations come at the same time that The New York Times reports that there’s already evidence that Administration’s new effort to work with so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels, which is a large part of the deployment announced Friday, is already showing signs that it is faltering:

EIN EISSA, Syria — Weeks after the Obama administration canceled a failed Pentagon program to train and arm Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State, American officials announced a new effort to equip ground forces in Syria to fight the jihadists.

But 10 days of interviews and front-line visits across northern Syria with many of the forces in the alliance, called the Syrian Democratic Forces, made clear that so far it exists in name only, and that the political and logistical challenges it faces are daunting.

One Arab commander, sitting near the earthen wall that separates this deserted town in Syria from the Islamic State’s front line, bitterly recalled being chased from his Syrian hometown by the jihadists and said he would do anything to reclaim that territory. But then he detailed a list of things his forces needed: ammunition, radios, heavy weapons and more American airstrikes.

“This is the state of our fighters: trying to fight ISIS with simple means,” he said, pointing to a fighter in broken boots, tattered fatigues and a dirty sweatshirt that read “Skateboarding ruined my life.”

Beyond the early logistical factors, the new alliance faces what is perhaps a more serious challenge in the long term: Though it is intended to begin clawing back territory from the Islamic State in mostly Arab areas, nearly all of the group’s fighting power comes from ethnic Kurdish militias.

That demographic reality is likely to further alarm Turkey, a vital American ally that considers Kurdish autonomy near its southern border a security threat. It also limits the forces’ ability to strike the jihadists in predominantly Arab communities — Kurdish fighters have less motivation to fight for those areas, and could deeply anger residents by doing so.

“The backbone of these forces are the Kurdish groups because of their experience fighting ISIS and their numbers,” said Redur Xelil, a spokesman for Syria’s dominant Kurdish force, the Y.P.G. But he talked about how that could be a limiting factor in fighting for cities like Raqqa, the Islamic State’s headquarters in Syria: “We have to be realistic that the Y.P.G. can’t go by itself into Raqqa, or people will say, ‘What are you doing there?’

(…)

Last week, President Obama announced plans to deploy dozens of Special Operations troops to support the new alliance. And before that, American officials said 50 tons of ammunition had been airdropped for Arab fighters with the new group.

But already, things have not always gone as planned. Since the ammunition airdrop, American officials have privately acknowledged that the Arab units it was intended for did not have the logistical capability to move it. So, again, the Kurds were called to help.

An array of smaller groups have allied with the Kurds, including Arab and Turkmen rebels, Christian militias and Bedouin fighters loyal to a sheikh who considered the Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi a friend.

While these groups hate the Islamic State, most are small, and some have been repeatedly routed by the very jihadists the United States now hopes they will defeat.

While the Kurds have become used to securing territory, with uniformed forces and a clear chain of command, their Arab allies often leave teenagers with Kalashnikovs at checkpoints who stop and release cars at random, scaring drivers.

A commander of one Arab group lamented that while Kurdish commanders could simply order their fighters to move, he could only make suggestions and hope his men complied.

Some of the alliance’s forces have cooperated before, but relations are not always smooth. The Kurdish military strength in the area means that Kurds set the agenda, and many clearly look down on their Arab partners.

For their part, Arab rebel fighters say they worry about their partners’ close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which the United States, Turkey and others list as a terrorist organization. They also distrust the motives of the thousands of Kurdish fighters who have come to Syria from Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

“ISIS brings foreign fighters for an Islamic State, while they bring foreign fighters for a Kurdish project,” said one Arab commander with the Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade who goes by the name Abu Hamza. “But if that is how they think, they’ll fail.”

What this means, of course, is that President Obama is likely to be forced to revisit his Syria policies several more times before he leaves office, but as each time has shown so far he doesn’t seem to have a coherent policy at all and that, in many respects, that policy seems mutually self-contradictory. The more important point, though, is that the fight against ISIS is Syria and Iraq is certain to be a legacy that President Obama leaves behind for whomever his successor ends up being. That was probably going to be the case no matter what Obama did, of course, but the fact that he has approached this issue in such a haphazard and unfocused manner has virtually guaranteed that the ISIS issue, and the broader issue of a Syria that seems ready to break apart the minute Bashar Assad leaves power, will be a major headache for the next President just as Iraq and Afghanistan were headaches for him when he took office in January 2009. More importantly, because of the haphazard escalation policy that he has engaged in with respect to this fight, which I discussed on Friday in the wake of the latest announcement of a policy change, President Obama has arguably significantly limited the options that his successor will have going forward in January 2017. We’re at the point now where disengaging may may no longer be a viable option notwithstanding that it is probably the best thing we could do, and where further escalation seems guaranteed no matter what the incoming President may want to do. Of course, the fact that essentially all of the Republican candidates for President, and the person who now seems all but guaranteed to be the Democratic nominee, seem committed to an even more aggressive Syria/Iraq/ISIS policy than this President, the likelihood of escalation is high any case.

Syria isn’t the only part of the world where the President will leave what is, at best, a mixed legacy, of course. The decision to join Europe in intervening in the civil war in Libya, which led to the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi forty year long dictatorship has ushered in a period of chaos in the nation that has allowed terrorist groups and other insurgents to take up refuge in various parts of the country, and which once again threatens to create conditions that could lead to a new flood of refugees to rival the Syrian migration already overwhelming Europe. Yemen remains a hotbed of chaos thanks in no small part to the war launched and back by America’s allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a war the Administration has largely supported. The Taliban have become newly resurgent in Afghanistan to the point where the withdrawal of American forces has, for all purposes, been halted. Outside of the region, eastern Ukraine continues to be a hot spot of fighting between the Kiev government and Russian-backed rebels while NATO allies in Eastern Europe continue to wonder just how much the alliance would have their back if Vladimir Putin decided to try to intimidate them. And, of course, the Chinese continue their efforts to expand their territorial waters in the South China Sea and elsewhere in ways that threaten major international shipping lanes.

There are, of course, some potential positives in the President’s foreign policy record. Notwithstanding the criticism it received from the right, the deal between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Great Britain, and France regarding Iran’s nuclear program has the potential to be a significant step toward cooling tensions with the Islamic Republic. The President’s decision to begin dismantling the outdated isolation of Cuba is clearly a good idea, although future progress on that front will require cooperation from Congress. Finally, it does appear that the nation’s relationships with European allies that were frayed over the Iraq War have been repaired, although that’s likely to be tested if Russia flexes its muscles far beyond Ukraine.

For the most part, though, and while there are still fourteen months left in his Presidency, President Obama appears destined to leave his successor a world that isn’t in much better shape than the one he inherited from his predecessor.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    Dude…
    Serious ODS flair-up this am?
    You’re friggin’ insane. We are better off by any metric.
    Gadzooks man…seek professional help. Obamacare will cover it.

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  2. Modulo Myself says:

    Obama’s foreign policy is awful, mostly. But he didn’t inherit a world any more than he inherited a country. This sort of imperial reactionary bulls–t where America’s role has always been exceptional can not be killed enough.

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  3. steve s says:

    I wasn’t aware Obama was responsible for the state of the entire goddam world.

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  4. @C. Clavin:

    You have to be blind to what’s happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, and Ukraine to not recognize that the President’s foreign policy has been, to say the least, less than idea.

    But if you think that any criticism of Obama is an example of “ODS,” which seems to be your reaction to any criticism of this President, then there’s really no reason to take either of our time debating this point, is there?

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  5. C. Clavin says:

    @steve s:
    Clearly you haven’t been paying attention to the Republican Clown Car…which Doug appears to be chauffeuring now.

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  6. steve s says:
  7. Rafer Janders says:

    Yes, and the economy is in a bad shape as when Obama entered office, what with that worldwide global depression that we’re in….oh, wait, what? We’re not in a worldwide global depression? Obama actually managed to reverse and overcome Bush’s disastrous economic performance?

    Huh. I…I wouldn’t know that from reading Doug’s post. It’s almost like he’s trying to deliberately mislead his readers…..

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  8. steve s says:

    @Rafer Janders: You read Doug’s posts? I read James’s, I read Steven’s, Doug’s overly long, GOP-biased posts I skip to get to the comments.

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  9. grumpy realist says:

    Doug–it’s not what President Obama did. It’s what the alternative would have been. I’m surprised you don’t realize it.

    When I consider Caribou Barbie and Mr. “bomb bomb bomb” Iran, the chances are high that a large portion of the world would have been radioactive by now.

    I’ll take the present situation instead, thank you very much.

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  10. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You have to be blind to what’s happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, and Ukraine to not recognize that the President’s foreign policy has been, to say the least, less than idea.

    The difference is that Bush actually PLANNED AND INITIATED the Iraq War. It was entirely his and Cheney’s creation, and absent their malicious bumbling, Iraq would have remained at peace.

    The rebellions and unrest in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Ukraine, on the other hand, began entirely independent of Obama. The US did not cause or initiate those events.

    I mean, we were all alive back then, you know. We have memories that stretch back more than two weeks. You’re not actually fooling anyone with this completely contemptible effort to compare who caused a disaster to another president who’s doing his best to manage disasters arising elsewhere.

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  11. Todd says:

    Subjectively, the world might be in no better shape than it was in 2008 before President Obama took office. But the only way to really evaluate his handling of it is to contemplate what the likely state of world affairs might be right now if either of his opponents (especially McCain) had been elected instead.

    I can’t imagine many scenarios, especially on the questions of middle east quagmires, where we might possibly be better off if neocons (which the advisers to both McCain and Romney were) had continued to occupy the White House for the past seven years.

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  12. Modulo Myself says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Bush is an artificially low bar. He’s to bad choices as Keith Richards is to coke, heroin and booze; you can do a lot of those three and still be moderate relative to Keith.

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  13. Slugger says:

    I certainly agree that the Levant is in crappy shape. My personal policy option would have been for disengagement. However, all is not bleak. I’m retired living mainly on my investment income. The Dow Jones was 7949.09 on 20 Jan 2009; a few minutes ago it was 17,883.01. My situation is a bright spot.
    Obama did some things right, some things wrong, and many things were beyond his control. My present gut assessment is that the positives outweigh the negatives, but I may be influenced by the rather low bar set by his predecessor. Let’s revisit this in five years.

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  14. Davebo says:

    We’ve lost Syria. We’ve lost Libya. We’ve lost Iraq. We’ve lost Ukraine.

    The fact that we never had Syria, Libya, Iraq or Ukraine is irrelevant. At least to Doug.

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  15. One can be critical of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, which I have been.

    One can also criticize the foreign policy of the Republican candidates for President, which I have done repeatedly.

    At the same time that one does those things, one can also legitimately criticize the policies of the President of the United States who has been in office for more than six and a half years now. Saying that “it would have been worse if McCain won” or “Bush!” is, in the end, just a cop-out not dissimilar from the ones knee-jerk Republicans engage in when ever the Bush Administration or Republican politicians are criticized. If people want to be knee-jerk Obama defenders, that’s their choice. But, in such a case, their criticisms deserve to be taken with a grain of salt since their motivation is to defend Obama not to deal with substance.

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  16. Modulo Myself says:

    Overall I doubt that anyone who works for the Post or any place two degrees removed from believing Ahmad Chalabi thinks Obama’s foreign policy is bad. This is just what these goons and mooks are paid to write. After he’s gone and wars keep on going, we can get some revisionism about the greatness of keeping close to Syria et al and how wise and canny it all turned out to be. In a country where Hillary Clinton praise Henry Kissinger’s commitment to democracy anything is possible, as long as you don’t act like Jimmy Carter.

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  17. @Davebo:

    Of course, that’s not what I said at all, but whatever it takes to convince yourself that your guy in the White House is the greatest thing since sliced bread I suppose.

    This is why I find it tiresome to debate anything with partisans.

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  18. Davebo says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As if you aren’t partisan.

    Hate to break it to you Doug but refusing to state your voting preference (while pretending to be a political commentator) doesn’t make you non partisan.

    It just makes you a contrarian partisan.

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  19. anjin-san says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    whatever it takes to convince yourself that your guy in the White House is the greatest thing since sliced bread I suppose

    And what did it take for you to convince yourself that this is what people are actually saying? Why don’t you throw in “the one” or “messiah” for good luck?

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  20. Todd says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    If people want to be knee-jerk Obama defenders, that’s their choice. But, in such a case, their criticisms deserve to be taken with a grain of salt since their motivation is to defend Obama not to deal with substance.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case it’s not all trying to imply that the Obama administration hasn’t made mistakes when it comes to foreign policy. But in our two party system, it really is relevant to consider what the only other people who legitimately could have occupied the office might have done instead.

    Not to denigrate the press, or think tanks, or even members of Congress, but when you get right down to it, “sniping from the bleachers” is just that. None of you were in the game (or had any chance of being in the game). Sure, people are free to say that there are things they would have done differently. But without having access to all the information the President has, and even more importantly, without considering what the second and third order effects of different decisions might have been, it really is impossible to objectively say that the President’s foreign policy has “failed”.

    After a reasonable amount of time, history will likely provide a more accurate judgment.

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  21. al-Ameda says:

    Notwithstanding the fact that the worst foreign policy decision of the post-Vietnam era – the Bush Administration’s decision in 2003 to go to war in Iraq for absolutely no reason related to the security and defense of the United States – which resulted in a massive destabilization of the region, shifted power from Iraq to Iran, and created the environment in which ISIS now flourishes. Notwithstanding THAT, it’s pretty clear that Obama has avery mixed record with respect to foreign policy initiatives.

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  22. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    At the same time that one does those things, one can also legitimately criticize the policies of the President of the United States who has been in office for more than six and a half years now.

    Sure…but to say that the world is worse off now than on Jan. 20, 2009 isn’t a criticism…it’s an abject denial of reality.

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  23. Scott says:

    I want to reject the basic premise that we are responsible for the world. Sure, we have a lot of weight to throw around because we are the wealthiest and have the largest armed forces. But the question is: Should we? My biggest fear is that we are going the way of the British Empire by squandering our inheritance by thrashing around the world and propping up failed nations everywhere.

    Economics and foreign policy are totally intertwined and yet there is seldom a serious conversation on how we can afford to execute our foreign and military policies in the long term.

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  24. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Dude…you cannot write total horseshit and then accuse anyone who calls you on it of being partisan.
    Today Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, and Ukraine all combined don’t add up to what was on Obama’s plate in 2009. And that doesn’t even consider the worst financial crisis since the depression.

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  25. Argon says:

    The US is probably in a better place, however. More people are being covered with health insurance and fewer being told to get their primary care in emergency rooms.

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  26. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    I said in my initial comment:

    We are better off by any metric.

    Tell me I’m wrong.

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  27. Hal_10000 says:

    When I consider Caribou Barbie and Mr. “bomb bomb bomb” Iran, the chances are high that a large portion of the world would have been radioactive by now.

    Seriously? You’re setting McCain and Palin as your standard? That is an extremely low bar. This is “he was honest standards of Richard Nixon”. “It could have been worse” is not a standard we have ever held any Administration to. We judge Presidents on what they’ve done, not by what might have happened in some alternative universe.

    Talk about Derangement Syndrome.

    And the Obama Administration does own a lot of this stuff. They failed to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement w/ Iraq. They supported the opposition in Syria which turned out to be a huge mistake. They backed the rebels in Libya, which also turned out to be a huge mistake. They supported the surge in Afghanistan which cost a lot of lives and treasure but doesn’t appear to have done any good.

    As Doug notes, there are also successes (Iran being a big one, if the agreement goes as planned). But I would have difficulty judging this Administration as having been a ringing success on the foreign policy front.

    By defending them with “McCain would have been worse” you’re basically conceding the entire argument.

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  28. cian says:

    Saying that “it would have been worse if McCain won” or “Bush!” is, in the end, just a cop-out not dissimilar from the ones knee-jerk Republicans engage in

    Doug is in the right here. The question he is posing is how has Obama, in foreign policy terms, handled the shit that has happened on his watch? About as well as could be reasonably expected, in my opinion. Better than Bush 2 and Reagan; on a par with Clinton and Bush 1. What has occurred in the Middle East since he took office is a direct consequence of the previous administrations actions, for sure, but the steps taken since then are his responsibility. I may not agree with Doug’s take, but its reasonable of him to ask.

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  29. Modulo Myself says:

    They failed to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement w/ Iraq.

    What are you talking about? They followed the one Bush signed in 2008.

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  30. Modulo Myself says:

    The larger question is how much real autonomy does the president have over foreign policy in this country?

    Imagine, say, trying Americans for implementing torture. Practically, how would that have worked? Millions of dollars would been spent saying Obama has lost the trust on the honest average torturer who was just following orders. Millions more for spreading rumors about disobedience within the military ranks and defiance at the highest levels of the CIA. Interviews with sympathetic men who were just trying to protect all of our precious children from terrorists by torturing false confessions out of captives and driving them insane.

    I just don’t see it happening at a national level. Our system is built for violence and wars happening out of our field of vision. Any attempt to change that–say a draft or complete disengagement–will not work unless the system is smashed. The funny thing is that the people who really seem peeved about Obama are the ones who worship the way our system works. They wouldn’t know how to live without it.

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  31. Tyrell says:

    Syria: what are our goals ? Who are the players ? Who are we helping ? Who is the enemy ?
    What is the exit strategy ?
    ISIS: when ISIS finally collapses, are there plans for war crimes trials, for the hideous murders that they themselves have recorded ? That is, if any of their leaders are still alive.
    Russia: what are they doing ? How does their presence affect the balance of power ? What are they wanting ? And who knows what the Chinese are up to.
    Afghanistan: news today – young woman stoned to death (Yahoo news). Now that right there – if we can’t or won’t stop that kind of stuff, then why are we even there ?
    Iran: I heard this morning that Iran has not signed the nuclear agreement and the president is going to have to deal with that. My source on that was sketchy. I also heard that this deal commits the US to defend Iran if they are attacked !
    An airliner goes down over the desert. What happened ? An Airbus breaking up from some mechanical problem, with no warning ?
    The problem is the vacuum in the middle east of strong leadership and policies. That has been lacking for decades. The great leaders of the past (British) who kept things fairly stable are long gone.
    We need to be careful about putting American lives on the line in some of those countries. Eisenhower warned about getting involved in brushfire wars in some lonely, forgotten place in the middle of no where.

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  32. C. Clavin says:

    I think Doug needs to go visit 2008 and remember what a tremendous time it was.
    An historic agreement with Iran…who Netanyahoo says is a week away from destroying Israel…is mentioned as an aside.
    And China is mentioned as not having existed before 2009…when in fact Cheney was f’ing with them as early as 2001.
    And this passes as analysis??? WTF???

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  33. Modulo Myself says:

    Just for a taste of how terrifyingly bad the Republicans are this is David Frum:

    I was less impressed by Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those “others” was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought. In 2002, Chalabi joined the annual summer retreat of the American Enterprise Institute near Vail, Colorado. He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to U.S. dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia.

    Chalabi was a goddamn Iranian spy, and here he was, working with Cheney long into the night on how to divide up Iraq. And this is a feature of the average Republican, not a bug. Just as they think Hillary plotted Benghazi, they will always 100% of the time listen to a con man/spy tell them what they want to hear.

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  34. Mu says:

    So Doug writes an article critically analyzing Obama’s foreign policy, and the most adamant replies are “but Bush” and “what about the economy”. You make the Trump bots sound brilliant with that kind of non sequitur.

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  35. James Rodgers says:

    @C. Clavin: @C. Clavin:

    Show some fucking Respect once to the guy who runs this site. It’s alright to disagree with him, but you are being an asshole. I used to come to this site more often and seeing your silly comments reminds me why i seldom come here anymore. Is your life so pathetic that you need to come here daily and berate the authors of the site because they aren’t as “intelligent” as you. See you in another 6 months jerk off when I come back to this site.

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  36. C. Clavin says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    Doug was completely taken in by Bush and Cheney on Iraq…so he doesn’t want to discuss the worst foreign policy blunder in history…only what Obama did to clean up the mess left for him.
    Republicans make the same argument about economics. Obama is to blame for not cleaning the mess Republicans left up better or faster.
    Shorter Doug…

    Obama hasn’t cleaned up my party’s messes good enough for me; whaaaaaa!!!!

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  37. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:

    We need to be careful about putting American lives on the line in some of those countries. Eisenhower warned about getting involved in brushfire wars in some lonely, forgotten place in the middle of no where.

    But I would bet almost anything you were in favor of invading and occupying Iraq.

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  38. @Davebo:

    Hate to break it to you Doug but refusing to state your voting preference (while pretending to be a political commentator) doesn’t make you non partisan.

    Who I vote for is, quite frankly, none of your business.

    As I have said repeatedly, I do not consider myself to be a Republican, or a Democrat. In just the past five years I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and unaffiliated candidates for office. You probably won’t believe me on that point, but that’s the truth.

    And this is the last time I will address any questions on this issue in any comment thread.

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  39. @C. Clavin: |

    Doug was completely taken in by Bush and Cheney on Iraq

    I opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, so once again you are wrong.

    Now, if you want to continue attacking me rather than engaging in discussions of the topic of the post, then please take if off thread.

    I will remind you, and others, of our comment policies.

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  40. @Modulo Myself:

    And the Obama Administration was actively engaged in attempting to negotiate a new agreement to allow them to keep a residual force behind after 12/31/2011. When the Iraqis refused to agree, the Administration, properly, proceeded with completely withdrawal. Something I supported completely at the time, by the way.

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  41. Lit3Bolt says:

    Doug, aside from everyone’s partisan masks slipping, I think the main thing missing from your analysis is any reference to Obama’s domestic environment from 2009-currently. The “Arab Spring” beings in December 2010, after midterm elections which led to a Republican Congress. Syria and Libya start falling apart in spring of 2011. So in 2011-2012, we still have an anemic economy, an opposition Congress who has had major members publicly vow to never support the President, an election coming up, and a public weary of any more major United States interventions in the Middle East. Absent support from any domestic source, what was Obama precisely supposed to achieve once numerous Arab dictators were being overthrown or started cracking down on their own populations? Is Obama responsible for the Iraqi Army fleeing from ISIS? How precisely has he failed to respond appropriately to Russian aggression?

    Tell you what, Doug. Find me a President in the post-Vietnam era that hasn’t had a “mixed legacy” in the Middle East. The only one I can think of is arguably Bush I, and even he “left Saddam in power” and let him crush the Kurdish and Shi’ite uprisings. But as the US Secretary of Defense said in 1992….

    I would guess if we had gone in there, we would still have forces in Baghdad today. We’d be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.

    And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don’t think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties, and while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the [1991] conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn’t a cheap war.

    And the question in my mind is, how many additional American casualties is Saddam [Hussein] worth? And the answer is, not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the President made the decision that we’d achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.

    — Dick Cheney

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  42. Lounsbury says:

    Really? Queer. Well party-political partisanship will out in the end. Bizarre evaluation however.

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  43. JohnMcC says:

    “President Obama is likely to leave the world in as bad a shape as he found it…”

    So will I. And unless you are a much more saintly and wise person than you demonstrate here, will Mr Doug Mataconis, Esq.

    What sort of political or diplomatic significance does such a stupid remark possess?

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  44. @Lit3Bolt:

    Obviously, Obama had to deal with the issues that were presented to him in the world and they were far from ideal thanks to his predecessor. However, that excuse only goes so far. In Syria in particular he has engaged in a series of policy choices that are incoherent, lacking in any seeming organization, and seem destined to lock whomever succeeds him into further escalation in a war that we don’t belong in to begin with.

    In Libya, he helped bring about a chaotic situation that threatens to turn that country into a hot bed of terrorism and hideouts for undesirables for years to come, only this time it will be much closer to Europe and areas of real American strategic interest than Afghanistan was before 9/11.

    These are policy choices he made, both of them endorsed by the Democrat most likely to win his party’s nomination (and in the case of Syria, she would have gone even further than he has). You can only blame Bush for what has happened over the past six years for so long before it starts sounding like excuse making.

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  45. Mu says:

    I think Obama’s big error was that he decided to get in onto the “Arab spring” movement, trying for once to back the right horse, something the US has been sorely lacking in the last 60 years when it comes to predicting the future winner in internal conflicts. Alas, the error wasn’t that he picked the wrong one as much as there wasn’t a winning horse to begin with. In Libya that at least resulted in the removal of Gaddafi, but resulted in another broken state. In Syria he tried to back the “majority” by opposing Assad, but his majority got taken over by the Saudies and Quataries and their Al-Quida allies while being unable to actually get anywhere. The same disaster happened in Yemen where supporting the Saudies clearly put us on the bad side.
    As long as we don’t confront the Saudies (as we should have after 9/11, but Bush was just as deferential as Obama) nothing in the middle east will change.

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  46. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yet if President Obama had decided to stay out of Libya as you are now suggesting, the Republicans would have been screaming treason from Day One. In fact, IIRC, McCain was squawking about sending in ground troops.

    We can all be Monday morning quarterbacks. Looking back on the end of WWII, Japan was closer to surrender than we assumed. Dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima was probably essential. Dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki? Probably not so much.

    We can all say that President Obama should have produced Utopia in the Mideast. The fact is, the best thing we can probably do about it is build a huge wall around it all (including Israel) and wait 150 years. Either at the end they’ll have killed each other off or will have learned how to live with each other.

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  47. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    My initial comment:
    @C. Clavin:

    We are better off by any metric.

    And again:
    @C. Clavin:

    I said in my initial comment:
    We are better off by any metric.
    Tell me I’m wrong.

    Crickets…
    American lives? Any lives? Money spent? Boots on the ground?
    Or just your emotions?

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  48. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, so once again you are wrong.

    I thought I read you saying, in another post somewhere, that you initially supported the Iraq war, and then became convinced otherwise.
    If I am wrong…I apologize.

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  49. @C. Clavin:

    Your alternative history suppositions are not relevant to a discussion of what President Obama has actually done. But, if your best response is “Well it could have been worse” then that’s not much of a defense all from my perspective.

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  50. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Alternative history? What are you talking about Willis? I know it isn’t facts.
    The only facts I’ve found show 63 active conflicts in 2008. 42 in 2015. That’s less conflict.
    We know that America has far fewer boots on the ground. Fewer Americans are dying…and we are spending far less money on wars than when Obama took over the office.
    The 30% fewer conflicts have have become more violent with deaths multiplying by a factor of 3…but I’m not sure how you justify blaming that on Obama. I’m sure you can.

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  51. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I agree with the lack of coherence to policy re: Syria and Libya, and some of it is do to political waffling during the 2012 election, which closed the window for meaningful early intervention.

    So, from your comments, I think the main failure of the Obama administration is letting these states fail, or actively encouraging them to fail, and thus creating hotbeds of sectarianism and terrorism. But that Dick Cheney quote stands, I think. How much American blood and treasure is it worth to “solve” these conflicts? Do you think it would be anyway comparable to the cost of any possible future terrorist attacks on the US? I think the answer is unless another 9/11 happens, probably not.

    IMO, there comes a time to let these guys fight it out. When African states decay into sectarian violence or civil war, we don’t hear about American “failures in foreign policy” and how Obama’s leaving a mixed legacy in Africa, or in Southeast Asia, or in Eastern Europe, or Central America. So in part I think people get worked up about Middle Eastern foreign policy is there’s a lot of PR and chaff to sort through. Part of it is simply that it’s a f**ked up region and likely to remain so for decades to come. So when you say Obama is a failure while forbidding any mention of recent history seems like excuse making on behalf of Bush and the Republicans. Obama inherited these wars, and had to be more measured in US intervention since then, simply because the public was tired of sending people who had been in 5th grade during 9/11 to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sorry if it offends you, but the actions of previous administration matter in foreign policy.

    To put things in perspective, the entire Middle Eastern foreign policy field has egg on their face right now. Post-Arab Spring, there were optimists saying democracy was just around the corner to pessimists saying the Muslim Brotherhood was going to sweep into power in every nation.

    Instead, in retrospect, things have muddled along with civil wars dragging the region down. We have given unconditional support to Egypt and the Saudis, because they had oil and the Suez canal. We failed to intervene in Syria because we were afraid of Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia, with some justification now I believe. In Libya, Qaddafi had pissed everyone off at some point, so we gladly intervened there, but failed to provide support post Qaddafi, so Libya does seem like its headed for Somalia style warlordism.

    What the US needs to do is strongly support their allies, and stop giving weapons to any goomba who says he’s a “moderate” or “secular” Muslim, because those don’t exist in the region as it is. So yes Obama has FP failures, and failed states have occurred during his “reign” but ultimately, even if he had intervened, I have a feeling your perspective on Obama would not have changed and you would call those interventions “failures” as well.

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  52. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    But, if your best response is “Well it could have been worse” then that’s not much of a defense all from my perspective.

    It is not much of a defense, that’s true.

    But had Clinton/McCain/Romney prevailed over Obama, things definitely would have been worse. So we’re in “Obama’s foreign policy is the worst….except for that of his rivals” territory.

    For all of his blunders, Obama’s foreign policy is the best we could have hoped for.

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  53. michael reynolds says:

    1) Libya. Not better, not worse than what Gaddafi had planned. A wash strategically, and it ain’t over.

    2) Iraq. US 90% out, casualties way down, a somewhat more tractable Shiite government in place. A net plus.

    3) Syria. Assad, Hezbollah, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Iran, Russia all killing each other while we fly drones overhead? Net plus. As I’ve said before: we just need the North Koreans to join in and it’s bingo!

    4) Ukraine. Russia in an intractable mess, can’t manage what it’s got, now suffering under sanctions as its economy drags ever downward. In reaction NATO armors up. Someone explain why this is bad for us? Do we not want Russia bogged down in quagmires? Do we not want NATO awake and re-motivated? A wash, possibly a net plus.

    5) China. They built their little islands, and we drove our big boats right between them. China has been reminded that the oceans belong to us, the Japanese are sufficiently alarmed that they are taking on more of a direct burden and promising more support. Newt plus.

    6) Iran. We now have a deal to limit their nuclear weapons capacity. A net plus.

    7) Pakistan. Have you noticed how they aren’t burning American flags so much?

    8) Cuba. We have finally ended that moronic embargo. Net plus.

    9) World perceptions of the US? Well, here’s a recent study on how the world feels about Mr. Putin. (Not good.) And if you scroll down that page you’ll find a table showing world attitudes toward the US and Russia by favorability. Guess who wins. Spoiler alert: we do. 79 to 37 in Africa. 69 to 26 in Europe. 67 to 29 in South America. 66 to 37 in Asia/Pacific, and in the Middle East? 29 to 25. No word from Antarctica.

    Go still further down the page at Pew and you have a head-to-head between Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama. Obama wins by huge margins in every geographical region, including the middle east where he outscores Mr. Putin by 36 to 25. The number for Europe is 75 to 15.

    Summary: We now have far less direct exposure to combat conditions and suffer very few casualties. Talk of a declining America is nonsense given the weakness and disharmony in the EU, the reckless stupidity of Mr. Putin, and the overreach of Chinese leadership combined with that country’s economic and demographic challenges. There’s been no new 9-11, no new 7-7. The only significant terror attack in the US under Mr. Obama was the Boston Marathon bombing. We are far more trusted and liked than the Russians everywhere on earth with the possible exception of Moscow.

    So, yeah, Doug: you’re wrong.

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  54. @Lit3Bolt:

    So, from your comments, I think the main failure of the Obama administration is letting these states fail, or actively encouraging them to fail, and thus creating hotbeds of sectarianism and terrorism

    Well, mostly yes.

    We should not have intervened in Libya at all. Once we and the rest of Europe did, though, then the Colin Powell Pottery Barn rule applied and the fact that nothing concrete was done by anyone to try to bring order to that place is something that will likely come back to haunt us and Europe sooner rather than Libya.

    In Syria, as I have said before, we should not be actively intervening in the civil war at the same time we are trying to push back against ISIS, which is clearly the kind of threat that counter-terrorism operations are justified against. Trying to overthrow Assad and weaken ISIS are, in the end, mutually contradictory goals. Additionally, it’s clear that there are few if any people involved in the anti-Assad coalition that we can or should trust. The so-called “moderate rebels” are anything but moderate and have been caught selling weapons to ISIS and other radical groups, and accused of aiding in the capture of several of the Westerners who were behead in ISIS videos last year.

    Additionally, the main problem with Obama’s policy in Syria (and Iraq) in addition to its incoherent and self-contradictory nature, is the way it has involved escalation and constant moving of goalposts in a way that makes further escalation largely inevitable and the possibility of withdrawal, even if that is the wisest choice, less likely just because of how far he’s committed us. The fact that this has all been done without him even bothering to seek authorization from Congress is also troubling, and an indictment against both him and the Republican Congress for shirking its Constitutional duties.

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  55. Andre Kenji says:

    Obama is not the President of the World. I did not have the choice of voting against or in favor of him. Unless I have the option of voting for him you can´t blame him for the state of the whole world.

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  56. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “Newt plus.”

    The former Speaker of the House and serial adulterer has something to do with Obama’s foreign policy because…? (Yes, I know it’s a typo, but a funny one).

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  57. @michael reynolds:

    I don’t believe I blamed Obama for Ukraine or China, I merely cited them as examples of areas that are going to be problematic for the next President along with those that Obama have helped create themselves.

    As to your points, I’ll just respond briefly:

    The idea that Libya is no more of a problem than it was before 2011 is utterly silly. Whatever one might say about Gaddafi, and there is pretty much nothing good that can be said about him, his nation was not a haven for Islamist radicals and other unsavory types, nor was it it source of a major refugee crisis that is present threatening to join the headache Europe is already dealing with in the form of Syrian refugees.

    And in Syria, our intervention there is only serve to make things worse, not better. As I said in a reply above the idea of trying to help overthrow Assad while simultaneously claiming to fight ISIS is absurd. If Assad falls, ISIS will in all likelihood be the chief beneficiary as the nation into thrown in the chaos that seems inevitable in a nation that for decades has clearly only been held together by an authoritarian dictator.

    As for Iran, as I said, the nuclear deal is a good step forward but in the end we don’t know if it will work, or if Iran will comply, and we won’t know that for some time to come. As many observers noted over the summer, including those who supported the deal, one unintended consequence of the deal in the future may be that it would hand a future President something that they lacked before it existed, legal and political justification for military action against Iran. So, we’ll see how that goes and anyone who actually trusts the Mullahs is being incredibly naive.

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  58. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Libya – according to our NATO allies’ intel – was on the edge of a major genocide. Neither you nor I has any basis for judging whether things are worse or better than they’d otherwise have been.

    Syria, I’d love for you to explain how our bombing ISIS there is making things worse. They were already worse, thanks in large part to Mr. Bush’s mismanaged intervention, and to the Shia-Sunni split, and to the presence of Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and soon. Syria was not Vermont before we showed up, it was already hell on earth.

    And really, you’re falling back on the “I don’t trust the mullahs,” trope? Yeah, no one does, Doug, which is why the terms of the deal allow the most intrusive inspections regime in history. There were two choices: war or diplomacy. You did not favor war, so I’d assume you favor diplomacy. That’s what we did: diplomacy. To be followed by war should it prove necessary.

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  59. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Doug, in your world Libya was a stable government in no danger of falling when Obummer and and his poodles Britain and France intervened to overthrow good old Gaddafi. Let me introduce you to the reality: Libya was in the midst of a civil war when Britain and France, with US help, intervened to prevent Gaddafi from his threatened massacre of rebel forces facing him in Benghazi. Note the phrase “civil war”. Kind of like what’s happening in Syria.
    In the real world, Doug, what would have happened absent intervention would have most likely not have been peace and order, but Syria Part ll-a Syrian type debacle but as you say, closer to Europe. And Syria is much, much worse than current Libya. Max Fisher:

    Even using more modest UN numbers for the Syrian death toll, its per capita death rate from war has been about eight times Libya’s, and a Syrian is 100 times as likely to become a refugee as a Libyan. In other words, had the world toppled Assad in such a way that Syria followed Libya’s path, then this would have saved approximately 220,000 Syrian lives and prevented 3.6 million Syrians from becoming refugees. That is not to characterize Libya as a success — it is not — but rather as a lesser catastrophe.

    Now that we cleared up your delusional thinking on Libya, let’s move to Syria. Note that Obama did follow your prescribed course of non-intervention in Syria. The result is the complete fustercluck we see today. Now you say Obama’s strategy is incoherent. Note that the Washington Post reporters in fact concluded he did have a coherent strategy and discussed in detail the pros and cons. The reporters also pointed out that no else had a better plan. Indeed, the universal expert consensus on Syria is that there is no simple, paint by numbers solution. Also, as you confess, you don’t have any idea of what to do about Syria, , so maybe you should humbly suspend judgment here, rather than criticizing Obama for not delivering some Utopian scheme.

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  60. @michael reynolds:

    Syria, I’d love for you to explain how our bombing ISIS there is making things worse. They were already worse, thanks in large part to Mr. Bush’s mismanaged intervention, and to the Shia-Sunni split, and to the presence of Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and soon. Syria was not Vermont before we showed up, it was already hell on earth.

    What’s making things worse is pursuing the mutually contradictory policy of trying to bomb ISIS and overthrow Assad. If we achieve the second goal, the main beneficiary of the ensuing chaos will be ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, and other Islamist groups, not the so-called and largely non-existent “moderate” Syrians.

    And as to Libya, as I said above the policy mistake there was two-fold. First intervening and, second, walking away from the country as it fell into chaos. That last one is a joint European-American mistake.

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  61. JohnMcC says:

    @Doug Mataconis: This is certainly one of the least worthwhile topics our little salon has considered by far. As an example of the inanity I find myself stuck on this Syria business of condemning the administration for “pursuing the contradictory policy of trying to bomb ISIS and overthrow Assad.”

    Merely thinking of the issue for a few seconds one can see three alternatives to this conundrum. We could support Assad. That would be allying ourselves with a regime that is absolutely one of the bloodiest in recent history. I googled “Hama Massacre” and Wikipedia helpfully suggested one article on the Hamas massacre of ’82 but pointed out that that was not to be confused with the Hama Massacre of 2012.

    (I notice that Our Gracious Host does not actually ADVOCATE that American policy anoint Bashaar Al Assad as our friend…. He’s only suggesting…. You know…. Well, it’s confusing….)

    The extremely limited choices posed in the Original Post would also allow the solution of allying ourselves with ISIS against Assad and his Russia sponsors. Does anyone wish to see a representative of the Caliphate as our friend?

    Finally, we could ignore the entire confusing business because it’s too dense and too rapidly aswirl for simple minds to understand. In other words, forget Turkey our NATO ally and our Kurdish friends we’ve fought shoulder to shoulder with for decades?

    Every example posted at the top of this thread leads to similar dead ends.

    We are indeed adrift in a frightful world full of people killing people for reasons that seem totally invisible. Could anyone reading my worlds tell a Tutsi from a Hutu? But on this planet there are sufficient reasons to murder millions with machetes and torches.

    In such a world does an intelligent person blame Barack Obama for ‘leaving the world in as bad a shape as he found it”?

    Our primary poster has sunk significantly in my estimation.

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  62. DrDaveT says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You have to be blind to what’s happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, and Ukraine to not recognize that the President’s foreign policy has been, to say the least, less than idea[l].

    No. You have to be presented with a plausible alternative. Until someone articulates an actual alternative policy that Obama could have pursued that would have resulted in a better current state of affairs, your criticism is vapid. That has nothing to do with Bush or Cheney or who supported whom or what in 2003 — it has only to do with what you think the President should have done, instead of what he actually did.

    I have yet to hear a concrete proposal from you (or anyone else) regarding what “a coherent Middle East policy” would have looked like, or what it would have accomplished, or why you think it could have worked. Until I do, I will continue to regard complaints about the state of the world as vacuous whining.

    I don’t like what’s going on in the Middle East either. I wish the President had come up with some stroke of genius that made it all better, or at least somewhat better. But it’s not like there’s an obviously better alternative out there that he foolishly failed to implement.

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  63. Todd says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    These are policy choices he made, both of them endorsed by the Democrat most likely to win his party’s nomination (and in the case of Syria, she would have gone even further than he has).

    Again, what the alternatives are, and who the opposition was/is matters. Yes, in the mess that is Syria, Hillary Clinton would have/likely will go even further. But, and it’s a big but, most Congressional Republicans, and pretty much all but one of those on the recent Republican debate stage would go even further than Clinton.

    The fact is, we are almost certainly not going to elect Rand Paul President, and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that the Democrats will nominate anyone other than Clinton. Given that reality, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the next President will be to the right of Obama when it comes to foreign policy.

    It’s funny to me that you seem to (I think correctly) identify most of President Obama’s worst mistakes as too hawkish, given that President Obama is clearly as “dovish” a leader as we are likely to get as long as the “war on terror” continues. It’s also somewhat ironic that the liberals here in the comments attack you so vehemently, given that your foreign policy views are almost certainly less interventionist than many of their own.

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  64. Grewgills says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The idea that Libya is no more of a problem than it was before 2011 is utterly silly. Whatever one might say about Gaddafi, and there is pretty much nothing good that can be said about him, his nation was not a haven for Islamist radicals and other unsavory types, nor was it it source of a major refugee crisis that is present threatening to join the headache Europe is already dealing with in the form of Syrian refugees.

    As others have mentioned Libya was already in the midst of a civil war and it appeared on the brink of a genocide level massacre. Regardless of what we did there a humanitarian crisis was eminent and a European intervention was almost guaranteed. How did the US joining that intervention make the situation worse? Would Qaddafi remaining in power and committing that genocide level massacre have been a preferable outcome to the current situation?

    And in Syria, our intervention there is only serve to make things worse, not better…

    In what way has it made things worse? You keep making this assertion as though the reason is self evident.
    The only major change that seems to have been directly attributable to US intervention or threat of intervention is Assad agreeing to dismantle his chemical weapons stockpiles. That seems to me to be a positive change. The rest seems to be right where it was headed anyway whether or not we got ourselves involved. Do you think things would be more stable with less refugees absent US involvement? Do you have any evidence for that position?
    It seems obvious that the humanitarian disaster was going to happen if we remained completely hands off or if we went in whole hog. I haven’t seen an argument from you or anyone else that convincingly shows that our half measures are producing a worse outcome than either hands off or whole hog.
    It seems the only real net negative that has provably been caused by US involvement is wasted money and resources. Can you point to any other?

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  65. @JohnMcC:

    (I notice that Our Gracious Host does not actually ADVOCATE that American policy anoint Bashaar Al Assad as our friend…. He’s only suggesting…. You know…. Well, it’s confusing….)

    I’m suggesting that we not intervene in a civil war that we don’t understand.

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  66. @Grewgills:

    Under the current circumstances in Syria, hastening the downfall of the Assad government is only likely to lead to chaos. In addition to the fact that this would likely make an already bad humanitarian situation worse due to the lack of the last of central control, this is likely to be mostly to the benefit of ISIS, al Nusra Front, and other radical elements, many of whom will turn their attention to the remaining populations of Syrian Christians and Alawaites rather than seeking any semblance of national unity. That would likely worsen a humanitarian situation that is already quite bad, and cause real problems for neighboring states such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, all three of whom have already absorbed millions of refugees. Additionally, I’d submit that the chaos would allow ISIS, et al, to consolidate their power in the areas they control, and expand, in ways that would make fighting them much more difficult, thus creating problems for Iraq and elsewhere.

    We have already seen in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, the dangers that follow from removing strongmen in nations with no tradition of democratic government. Why we would think it is a good idea to do that in Syria is beyond me. And yet, that is our current policy, and its something endorsed by everyone to Hillary Clinton to most of the Republican candidates for President.

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  67. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Methinks Mr. Mataconis would like a do-over for his demonstrably shoddy hit piece. He protests over-much.

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  68. I was unaware of the fact that expressing disagreement with the President is a “hit piece.”

    Again, this is the problem with people unwilling to accept even slight criticism of their deeply held beliefs.

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  69. Grewgills says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    As noted above Libya is by most metrics better off than Syria at present. Aside from that you missed by point. The question wasn’t how might Syria end up worse off than it is now or would have been absent American involvement. The question was how IS Syria worse off now than it would have been absent American involvement. To date the only material difference between how Syria was and how Syria would have been is an end to the use of certain chemical weapons (a good) and a marginally better armed resistance that might prolong the civil war a bit. Russia has stepped in to alleviate the second. Your nightmare might be situation isn’t the likely outcome. The much more likely outcome is Russia becoming bogged down in Syria fighting ISIS et all with Assad.
    It is a bad situation, but not one we were going to be able to prevent. Keep in mind before we became involved Assad was using chemical weapons on his own people and a humanitarian crisis was already underway. It’s not like we started this and I haven’t seen any real evidence that we’ve made the situation as it stands NOW any worse. Do you have any evidence that we have made the situation worse in Syria NOW than it would have been absent our intervention?
    The only way I can see a more stable situation having evolved sans US involvement would have been for Assad to continue gassing his own people until enough of them were dead or permanently disabled to take the fight out of Daesh in Syria. That would take an awful lot of death and destruction and I’m not so sure that it would be better than what we have now.
    All of this is a very long way of saying that we had no good choices re Syria, so any choice would have been a bad one.
    Further, the criticism that Obama has locked the next president in to escalating action with Syria is simply untrue. In the radically unlikely future administration of Pres Sanders or Pres Paul we could easily deescalate our involvement in Syria. In the much more likely event of Clinton or any other Republican our involvement in Syria would likely be more than it is now even absent any current intervention by Obama.

    PS I don’t think this was a hit piece and I generally agree with your less interventionist stance. I just don’t think you have shown that American actions in Syria or Libya have made the current situations there worse than they would have been sans US intervention or that our current situation in Iraq would have been better off with less US intervention under Obama.

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  70. steve s says:

    obama mocks people like Doug.

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  71. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Modulo Myself: He’s referring to not renegotiating a new status of forces agreement that would have allowed a continued presence in Iraq beyond the time of negotiated withdrawal. IIRC, the sticking point on continuing the agreement was a change demanded by Iraq that, essentially, provided that US soldiers be governed by Iraqi law and prosecuted in Iraq by Iraqi courts for any violations with which they were charged.

    As I recall, Michelle Bachmann commented in the wake of the failure to continue military presence in the country something to the effect of having “bought that country [Iraq] with our blood and treasure” and that we should have simply deposed the government and instituted US military rule–a great moment in democracy and neoconservative political philosophy.

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  72. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m gonna have to disagree with you on the virtues of encouraging NK to get involved in the ME. It IS tempting and NK doesn’t have the wherewithall to sustain such an engagement, and said engagement would certainly destabilize an already tenuous Kim regime. That being noted, there are no players–anywhere that I can see–willing and wealthy enough to take on what is, arguably, the poorest country in history of the world. We’d just be creating another power vacuum–not a wise choice at the moment.

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