Who Benefits from Our Inaction Abroad?

Published February 13, 2015

National Review Online

‘Cui bono?” Who benefits? It was the question ancient Romans asked when hoping to cut through a fog of possible causes for a problem.

As of this morning, U.S. Marines were evacuating Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. We’ve seen this movie before: the bonfires of documents, the hammer blows to equipment, the disabling of weapons, the rush to the helicopters. Think Saigon 1973 or Tehran 1979. Only five months ago, President Obama touted his policy toward Yemen as a success: “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen . . . ” Well.

Who benefits? The rebels who took Yemen are Houthis, allies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This makes four Arab nations (the others are Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq) that are now controlled or heavily influenced by Iran. Iran also supports Hamas in Gaza.

Our eyes are drawn to the pornographic violence of the Islamic State. After disdaining them as the “JV” team, the president has yielded to public pressure by requesting an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, but the document presented is more of an apology note for previous U.S. military actions than a blueprint for war.

This president, he keeps telling us, was elected to end wars, not to start them. There’s another Roman adage that’s apt here: If you want peace, prepare for war. Let’s consider the origins of the Islamic State. The radical Sunni offshoot of al-Qaeda was hatched in an environment made possible by President Obama’s nonfeasance or malfeasance.

The first policy was President Obama’s determination not to provide aid to the rebels seeking to topple Bashar Assad. His own ambassador, Robert Ford, resigned in protest of Obama’s denial of aid to the Free Syrian Army (the non-radical forces opposing Assad).

Denied support from the U.S., the Free Syrian Army lost out to more radical forces, like al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Assad (doubtless supported by Iran) made the strategic decision to release the leadership of the Islamic State. Newsweek quoted a Syrian opposition figure who explained, “From the first days of the revolution (in March 2011), Assad denounced the [the opposition forces] as being the work of radical Salafists, so he released the Salafists he had created in his prisons to justify the claim . . . If you do not have an enemy, you create an enemy.”

The combination of Assad’s cynicism (he wanted to make it harder for his opponents to get international support) and Obama’s intransigence helped give birth to the Islamic State.

The Islamic State was able to spill over into Iraq. How? Because President Obama chose, against the advice of his military and other advisors, to remove all U.S. forces from Iraq and to turn a blind eye to the gross abuses committed by Iraq’s Iranian-backed president Nouri al-Maliki against the Iraqi Sunnis.

Today, the Islamic State rampages through a lawless Mesopotamia threatening millions of people and committing atrocities that shock the world. The civil war in Syria has taken the lives of 220,000 and displaced 9 million. Iran continues to improve its centrifuges. Yet as recently as last week, National Security Adviser Susan Rice explained that the president’s policy is one of “strategic patience.” What accounts for this equanimity?

The best insight into the president’s motives is supplied by a very troubling piece in Mosaic magazine by the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran. The president has been consistent, Doran shows, from his first days in office. “Obama based his policy of outreach to Tehran on two key assumptions of the grand-bargain myth: that Tehran and Washington were natural allies, and that Washington itself was the primary cause of the enmity between the two.” The president has been secretive and dishonest about negotiations with Iran — and aides have hinted of his intention to block the Senate’s ratification power by not calling a nuclear agreement a treaty.

All of Obama’s seemingly inexplicable decisions, Doran argues, from Syria to Iraq to the spurning of the Green Revolution in 2009, are of a piece. Obama believes that once a nuclear agreement is reached, Iran will become a stabilizing power in the region and the world.

The Neville Chamberlain analogy is overused, but it is very hard to read Doran’s very detailed recapitulation of the past six years and conclude anything other than that the answer to “Cui bono?” is Iran.

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2015 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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