My Turn: Obama has left United States with no good options
I served in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than 35 years, both active and reserve, including a deployment to Iraq in 2004 where I served as deputy legal counsel, Multi-National Force Iraq. I retired June 1 as a colonel. As I’m sure you can imagine, Marines don’t like to beat around the bush with double talk and non-answers. Every commander I’ve ever had wanted the facts, plain and simple. So I’ll be blunt: When it comes to the Islamic State, Syria and the ongoing crisis in Iraq, President Obama has left us with no good options.
The current crisis has reinforced a lesson we have already learned time and again: President Obama’s foreign policy is a failure. From Benghazi to Syria to Ukraine to Iraq, Obama has failed to clearly define the national security interests of the United States, he has failed to protect American interests abroad, and he has failed to provide strong American leadership. Our friends don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us. That’s what happens when the leader of the free world draws a “red line” and yet takes no action when it is crossed by a totalitarian regime brutally murdering its citizens.
To make matters worse, Obama failed to see this predictable crisis coming. The Obama administration had ample warning that Islamic militants would be a problem in Iraq. Many countries in the Middle East that have experienced regime change or unrest recently have seen a corresponding rise in militant, Islamic fundamentalists attempting to fill the power vacuum. Libya, Egypt and Syria are all examples of this troubling trend. Syria in particular, due to its shared border with Iraq and ongoing civil war, should have been a warning sign to the Obama administration that Iraq would also face a rising militant population. But all along, the Obama administration has refused to acknowledge the facts, calling the Islamic State “the JV team” and claiming to have al Qaida on the run during his re-election campaign.
To put it succinctly, the problem with the Obama administration’s Iraq strategy is that it doesn’t have one. President Obama has not laid out an achievable objective, a plan to accomplish that objective, or a plan for withdrawing from the conflict. The president’s failure to clearly define our mission in Iraq will inevitably lead to “mission creep” as we are already seeing with the deployment of an additional 100 U.S. military advisers and discussion of expanding air strikes into Syria.
So given the poor situation Obama has left us with in Iraq, what should be done? First and foremost, let me be clear; absolutely no “boots on the ground” under any circumstances. It is time for Iraq to govern itself and solve its own problems. We cannot solve Iraq’s internal problems with American military action. We have spent far too much precious blood and treasure in that country already.
I am open to targeted, limited air strikes in Iraq that clearly serve the national security interests of the United States or protect American lives. We have an embassy in Baghdad and Americans serving and working in various capacities around the country. Targeted air strikes can help temporarily keep the Islamic State at bay while the Iraqi government tries to get its act together. Although the Iraqi government has been largely ineffective to date, a coalition government of Sunnis and Shiites remains our best hope for a sustained peace or, at the very least, minimal violence and a semblance of stability.
Furthermore, I believe we need to strengthen our diplomatic relationships, both publicly and privately, with regional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration has had very public spats with both of those countries recently, Israel in particular. Any sense of daylight between the United States and our allies on our approach to Iraq and the Islamic State gives our enemies hope for their perverted cause along with new recruiting propaganda.
Lastly, we need to turn our eyes to domestic security. The memory of Sept. 11, 2001, is still fresh in our minds. Right now we have a southern border that is porous and thousands of undocumented immigrants cross the border every day. In the context of the Islamic State, that represents a dire vulnerability that needs to be fixed immediately. More border guards, more fencing in appropriate areas and increased use of technological assets such as surveillance drones would be a good place to start.
(Gary Lambert is a Republican candidate in the 2nd Congressional District.)