WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has treated turmoil in the Middle East—manifesting as political unrest, humanitarian crises and sporadic violence—according to a foreign policy many pundits have dubbed “retreatist.” This backseat positioning has pleased those still upset by the Iraq War. But people who disagree, many of who believe intervention is critical to U.S. national security, are angered at Obama for his hesitancy to act.
With the closing of the Iraq War and ISIS’s spread throughout Iraq and Syria, an old question continues to trouble American government: how should the U.S. be involved, if at all, in the political affairs of the Middle East?
The priorities of American foreign policy, as asserted by the U.S. State Department, are national security, promotion of world peace, balanced world powers, international problem solving, democratic values, human rights and cooperative foreign trade. Violence in the Middle East has upset more than one of these ideals. Officials fear that ISIS threatens national security, and torture and egregious executions have constituted an Iraqi humanitarian crisis. These ramifications have been prime motivators in U.S. action, or, rather, inaction.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is unclear, which makes some people uneasy, but it is usually typified as retreatist, favoring withdrawal from direct confrontation in global politics. Modern examples of this philosophy include the plan to hurt Russia via indirect economic sanctions, the removal of troops from Iraq and the avoidance of direct action in Syria. The covert mission to rescue Foley, the man who was recently beheaded by ISIS, again demonstrated a hesitant U.S. foreign policy; Obama attempted to manage the ordeal, but did not attempt to reach a lasting solution by attacking the heart of Foley’s captors.
The takeaways have been that economic engagement precedes military intervention, and that reactive politics precede committed involvement. There’s no American war in the Middle East right now, but there are intermittent skirmishes with ISIS, employing drones and aid drops, following the movement and development of the Islamic extremists.
There is another argument professed by new age nihilists that shows skepticism of any long-term gains from increased involved, whether that be militarily or not. Nihilism is, in short, the reasoning that no matter how one alters his behavior, there are too many global influences for his actions to effect anything the way he planned them to. If outcomes are composites of unnameable intricacies, why try to mold them?
The natural corollary goes like this: can the U.S. guide countries such as Iraq to tailored solutions? The Iraq War suggests that it cannot; the $1.7 trillion spent and 4,500 American lives lost have few intended outcomes to show for themselves. The Middle East is still in disarray and Iraq is as unstable as ever.
“It is surely true that Barack Obama’s administration is loath to get drawn into another war in the Middle East,” says Whitney Kassel, a writer for the journal Foreign Policy, “but in addition to what is repeatedly cited as war weariness, there lies at the core of that resistance a glaring uncertainty as to whether U.S. involvement would actually lead to a better outcome, either for the United States itself, for the Syrians, or for America’s allies in the region.”
Expanding participation, in other words, will not necessarily make anything better. There has been limited participation, however, that can claim to have bettered situations in Iraq. These instances of humanitarian victory, including the rescue of Yazidis taking refuge on Sinjar mountain last month, have not impeded ISIS’s spread, but have minimized ISIS’s destructive wake.
Involvement of this kind, limited but altruistic in motive, takes responsibility for the welfare of the foreign citizens. This may upset Americans who believe that the United States has no reason to meddle with foreign human rights crises. A good question to ask, then, is, “Whose responsibility is it?” And is that it realistic to rely on an answer to such responsibility?
Politico, an American political journalism organization, designed a poll to gauge public opinion regarding U.S. action in the Middle East. Of those polled, 36 percent were democrat, 34 percent were republican and 29 percent independent. Their answers were telling; only 15 percent of poll takers thought that there should be more involvement, while 67 percent agreed that “U.S. military actions should be limited to direct threats to our national security.”
Obama and other government agents have yet to demonstrate actions consistent and precise enough to be dubbed markers of U.S. foreign policy. The result is hesitancy and general confusion about what to do in today’s global affairs, and this condition, if elongated, might seem retreatist. Whether or not it comes to that is still in the works.
– Adam Kaminski