Obama’s tactical success but strategic failure
President Barack Obama’s anti-terrorism Middle East policies are perhaps worse than his national debt policies — now $16 trillion and rising — and in spite of popular naivety about his performance in the war on terror, America is less safe today than four years ago.
A 2012 Gallup survey found 63 percent approve of Obama’s terrorism handling, up from 48 percent in 2010. Part of that success is due to Obama’s adoption of former President George Bush’s tough counterterrorism tactics and the killing of al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Michael Hayden, Bush’s former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, said Obama closely mirrored Bush’s “war on terror” tactics — rendition, targeted killings, state secrets, and Guantanamo Bay. The tactical difference is that Obama kills “enemy combatants,” including at least one American (Anwar al-Awlaki), rather than capturing them, which denies us important intelligence.
Unfortunately counterterrorism will remain “our top priority” for the foreseeable future, testified Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We face a fluid, dynamic, and complex terrorist threat,” Mueller testified before a Senate committee last week. The director continued, “We have seen an increase in the sources of terrorism, a wider array of terrorism targets, and a greater cooperation among terrorist groups, and an evolution in terrorist tactics and communications methodology.”
Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, echoed the FBI director’s sobering assessment. Even though “our nation has made significant progress in the fight against terrorism,” al Qaeda and its affiliates “continue to pose a significant threat to our country. This threat is resilient, adaptive, and persistent.”
Olsen warned “persistent unrest in places such as Yemen, Libya, Egypt, and Syria may also provide core al-Qaeda a propaganda opportunity to claim victories over the United States and reinvigorate its image as the leader of the global movement.”
That “persistent unrest” and resulting terror threat in the volatile Africa-Middle East-Central Asia regions are in part due to Obama’s policies. Whereas Obama’s borrowed tactics may kill a lot of terrorists, his policies are having the opposite effect.
Consider the terrorist threat in multiple countries four years ago, Obama’s actions and the emerging “persistent” terrorism threat for the future.
Four years ago Egypt was ruled by a pro-American autocrat, President Hosni Mubarak. In January 2011 Obama called for Mubarak’s “immediate” resignation. Then Obama embraced Islamists and boasted “I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny.”
Today the Muslim Brotherhood and their radical Salafist allies control Egypt’s presidency and parliament. Obama now admits Egypt is no longer an American ally and as evidence Cairo supports the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, militant attacks are up in the Sinai, and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s advisers state that amending Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel is “a matter of time.” Besides, Egyptian security forces were very slow responding to recent violent protests outside our Cairo embassy and Morsi took 48 hours to make a tepid apology for that violence albeit to an “ally” who has given Egypt $70 billion in aid since 1979.
Four years ago Libya was ruled by the dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi who aggressively pursued Islamic terrorists and cooperated with the U.S. Then Obama said “I am absolutely clear that it is in the interests of the United States … for Mr. Gaddafi to leave.”
Obama launched “Operation Odyssey Dawn” that sided with anti-Gaddafi forces to remove Gaddafi. Now Tripoli has an Islamist government that is viewed as an American puppet which irritates terrorists and al Qaeda-inspired militia groups like the Ansar al Sharia that killed our ambassador in Benghazi two weeks ago.
Another unfortunate byproduct of Gaddafi’s fall is the loss of control of conventional Libyan weapons, which likely fell into terrorist hands. The Libyan regime stored weapons in hundreds of unsecured locations which included at least 20,000 man portable air defense weapons.
Four years ago Iraq’s sectarian-based civil war was winding down and that country was heading for elections. Then Obama withdrew our forces in December 2011 against the recommendation of field commanders to leave a stabilization force, much as we did in the sectarian war-torn Balkans, where troops remain today more than a decade after that war ended.
On our last day in Iraq Obama told troops at Fort Bragg, N.C., “Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead.” He knew Iraq wasn’t ready for the security handoff, but his hapless diplomacy failed, we left and Iran quickly filled that vacuum.
Since our departure, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has conducted near-monthly country-wide attacks and it supports uprisings against secular governments in the region and with the Syrian Sunni population. Also during the past two years North American authorities have arrested several AQI operatives highlighting the potential threat to our shores.
Four years ago Syria was ruled by dictator President Bashir al-Assad who Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled a “reformer.” Assad contained terrorism and was at peace with his neighbors. Then in March 2011 Syrians took to the streets caught up in the wave of Arab unrest.
Today, 18 months after the first protest, Syria is engulfed in a civil war that spilled over its borders. Obama is supplying rebel factions with non-lethal support, calls for Assad to step down, but has taken no further action to arrest the spread of violence. Meanwhile, jihadists from across the Middle East flood into Syria much as they did into the Iraq fight.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said as many as a quarter of the 300 different groups in Syria may be inspired by al Qaeda. And Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s militia aims to rebuild Syria “with an Islamic base” and “raise awareness for Islam and for jidhad.”
Four years ago the Afghan war was in the shadow of operations in Iraq. But in 2009 Obama launched a surge which just finished and it failed. Now that Obama intends to abandon the fight in 2014 the situation looks desperate.
Once we leave that country will likely fall into civil war and the Taliban will retake control in Kabul. What we don’t know is whether militant groups like Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the Haqqani network, and Lashkar-e Tayyiba will fade away or transform into transnational terrorists. We already know al Qaeda, which remains safe in western Pakistan, will continue its war with the West.
One of our major concerns is whether nuclear-armed Pakistan will fall under radical Islamist control. Last month Pakistan’s Kamra Air Base was attacked by terrorists and last week massive Islamist protests disrupted that country. However, the immediate terrorist threat to Americans will wane once our forces leave, but the long-term threat may rise as radicals take over Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan.
Finally, four years ago Iran did not pose a direct terrorist threat against America. That changed in the wake of our clandestine war over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The Iranian terrorist threat increased in the past year. For example, last fall we disrupted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. which demonstrates Iran’s willingness to conduct terrorist operations in our homeland. Meanwhile, Iran continues to be the foremost state sponsor of terrorism as evidenced by its Qods Force which plans and executes terrorist acts abroad and provisions various groups like Hezbollah.
President Obama’s anti-terrorism success is mostly smoke and mirrors. He embraced the same tactics used by former President Bush with some success but strategically, Obama’s policies fuel terrorism and its Islamist supporters which will threaten America for decades to come.