Published June 18, 2013
“What I’m saying is, that if you haven’t been in the Situation Room… Unless you’ve been involved in those conversations, then it’s kind of hard for you to understand the complexity of the situation and how we have to not rush into one more war in the Middle East.”
— President Obama in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service.
President Obama and other Democrats keep talking about avoiding “another Iraq” and avoiding a “rush to war” similar to the 18-month run up to the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
And while Obama seems to be following much of the U.S. playbook for Iraq between 1992 and 2001 – secretly training, encouraging and equipping rebels, but not enough for them to succeed – there’s no reason to think that anything on the scale of the 2003 invasion is remotely close to happening in Syria.
Instead, the Iraq invasion straw man is key to Obama’s approach to the genocidal civil war between Muslim sects in the impoverished nation of 20 million at the crossroads of the Middle East.
Much as he is defending his domestic surveillance programs by asserting that he is not like former Vice President Dick Cheney, he is defending his arming and training of Islamist rebels in Syria by saying he is not like George W. Bush.
But Obama needn’t reach back a decade for an example of how U.S. military interventions work in the region.
Obama and other NATO leaders in Northern Ireland for an economic summit met today with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.
Zeidan is the man who helped convince Obama and his European counterparts to depose Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi and install a new government ultimately led by Zeidan, a liberal reformer Libyan exile, who worked as a human rights lawyer in Switzerland.
The promise, articulated a few times by Obama, was that Islamism would be a transitory state for the new nation. Zeidan and his fellow exiles promised that, in order to take out Gaddafi, who had brutally oppressed Islamists. A moderate theocracy, they argued, was the only way to unite the opposition and usher in a new era. In time, Libyans would cease to bitterly cling to their rocket launchers and religion–and become enlightened.
But it hasn’t worked out so swimmingly.
Libya has remained a hotbed of Islamist extremism, most notably for Americans with the raid on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four Americans, including the first American ambassador killed on the job in a generation.
The topic of discussion with Zeidan today was likely focused on the fact that the radicals don’t seem to be moderating. The only thing keeping the Western-backed government in power are Islamist militias who, in some cases literally, defend it against popular unrest.
But to keep the Islamists and their Kalashnikovs on board with the new government, the reformers have had to give away the store. When angry mobs are outside the door, the demands of one’s protectors tend to sound quite reasonable. The hard-line Islamists, though, are losing patience and may soon enough decide to oust the Western-backed crew entirely.
Zeidan was likely asking his Western benefactors for some cash and protection. Obama and the Europeans were likely asking that Zeidan do something about the al Qaeda affiliated goon squads roaming the streets.
And so it has been in other places where America and Europe less directly encouraged Islamist overthrow of secular strongmen. Egypt may make it to Western liberalism as Obama promises, but for now it is the world’s most populous theocracy.
The net effect is that Iran is having a great run, as the Great Satan and the Little Satans in Europe help spread Islamism in a way that would have been beyond imagining a decade ago. Obama promises that these are the good Islamists, but sometimes it’s rather hard to tell.
Obama, though, says he can tell. He told Charlie Rose that if Americans, strongly opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria, could see what he saw in the Situation Room at the White House they would be cool with the idea of arming the rebels, but not too well.
The rebel crew in Syria seems to be the roughest lot of any to emerge in the Islamist awakening across the region. But Obama’s implicit promise is that we can help the ones who don’t eat the internal organs of their enemies or shoot children in the face for telling a joke about Mohammed.
In the interview, Obama also pooh-poohed the notion that acting more forcefully or swiftly might have prevented the massive genocide or prevented the really, really bad Islamists from gaining a foothold. It’s complicated, he said. And it requires all of the secret knowledge he has to understand.
The president argues that those people who want air strikes, etc. are trying to remake the Iraq invasion. And for those who don’t want to go in at all, he says he can make sure to help the good guys and not the bad ones.
Obama’s nibbling interventionism – famously dubbed “leading from behind” – has produced plenty of unhappy results so far. But if you knew what he knew, Obama promises, you would be on board.
That seems to be the new motif of this presidency, whether it’s domestic spying, taking it easy on the IRS and Department of Justice scandals or implementing his creaking and groaning health law. Americans can’t understand the details here, but Obama and his team of experts understand things in a way we can’t.
Obama can’t tell you why he’s doing what he’s doing because it is too complicated. But if you could understand, you’d be all for it.
For a government and a president suffering a crisis of confidence, “trust me” takes a mocking tone.
And Now a Word from Charles
“Look, the search for Iranian moderates is perpetual. And the answer is always the same — it’s a mirage. We go back to the hostage crisis in ’79. We were looking for the moderates. Then Iran-Contra started because the national security advisor of Ronald Reagan of all people had had the idea that he knew of some moderates in Iran and he went over on a secret trip. In the end he was swindled and humiliated. But this happens over and over again. This is a wish. It’s not a reality.”
— Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.