It is not uncommon to find inconsistencies and even contradictions in U.S. foreign policy. Usually a few years of separation are required to reveal our inconsistency, as in the case of Iran. Rarely do we see such striking contradictions in real time as we do today in the Middle East policies of the Obama administration.
ISIS occupies the center stage of our current iteration of contradictory policy. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which subsequently changed their name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), apparently now wants to be known simply as The Islamic State (IS). This is the militaristic group that has emerged out of Syria, Al-Nusra, and merged with Al Qaeda of Iraq, to take over significant portions of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Threatening to violently take over all of Iraq and Syria, establishing an Islamic caliphate that would eventually cover the world, they have mercilessly spread their destruction from city to city. They behead or conduct mass executions against whoever opposes them (including American journalists), kidnap for ransoms to fund their operations, and have vowed to raise the ISIS flag over the White House. They are well funded from bank robberies, selling oil on the black market, and from kidnap ransoms. They are well trained, militant, and are well armed, predominantly with U.S. equipment.
This is the Al Qaeda-linked group of terrorists that Obama referred to as “JV” (junior varsity) just a few months ago. In an interview with New Yorker magazine in January, the president applied a metaphor, saying of ISIS, that putting on a “Laker’s uniform doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” That “JV” group of militants, now figured to be 10,000 strong (including some westerners and as many as 300 Americans) is now perceived to be the greatest terrorist threat in the world.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, more than 32 times the president claimed Al Qaeda was “decimated” or “defeated.” To acknowledge their resurgence just two years later would not fit with his narrative as slayer of Osama bin Laden and vanquisher of his terrorist group. Consequently, their emerging threat had to be minimized.
But that’s just the tip of the ISIS iceberg for the administration. We have to realize that for the past few years the president has been actively engaged in toppling Middle Eastern regimes; Khadafy in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt, and Assad in Syria. In fact, just over a year ago the president was requesting $500 million to help the “freedom fighters” in Syria topple the Assad regime. The majority of those “freedom fighters” now go by the name ISIS, and the president was poised to fund them.
Even worse, according to CNN last August, CIA sources have revealed that the Benghazi consulate attack of 9/11/12 was directly linked to a clandestine administration operation providing arms to the rebels in Syria. It wasn’t just the consulate compound in Benghazi that was demolished by the marauding jihadists, but the CIA facility two kilometers away, that housed the cash and weapons caches being smuggled into Syria. Jihadists got all of it.
This clarifies the need of the administration to fabricate a story about a YouTube video causing the “spontaneous demonstration” leading to the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi. In light of recent developments with ISIS, clearly the administration was displaying their naiveté, or, worse yet, intentionally downplaying the effects of surging jihadist groups, by willfully arming and funding them in their effort to displace Assad.
Clarifying the nature and ideological alignment of ISIS, last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that ISIS and Hamas are “branches of the same tree.” He explained, “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas. They’re the enemies of peace. They’re the enemies of Israel. They’re the enemies of all civilized countries.”
This brings us to current events, with the president now authorizing bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq, and leaving the door open to possible raids even into Syria. So now he’s bombing the same militants that he sought to legally fund through congress, was actively arming and funding through clandestine CIA operations in Benghazi, Libya, and that he has characterized as being “JV” terrorists. And let’s not forget that by leaving Iraq so hastily without a Status of Forces agreement, the administration created the vacuum facilitating the successful march of ISIS across northern Iraq.
Last week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “I think evidence is pretty clear when we look at what they did to Mr. Foley [the American journalist James Foley, beheaded last week by ISIS], what they threaten to do to all Americans and Europeans, what they are doing now, the — I don’t know any other way to describe it other than barbaric. They have no standard of decency, of responsible human behavior. And I think the record is pretty clear on that. So, yes, they are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.” He concluded, “We’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Those who maintain that the U.S. should embrace a non-interventionist foreign policy would have us believe that this is not a concern to us. In social media and elsewhere they promulgate an attitude of, “let them kill each other off.”
It could already be too late for that. Last week Texas Governor Rick Perry said, “There’s the obvious great concern that because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across, that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be [crossing the border] — and I think there is a very real possibility that they may have already used that.” Our southern border is not secure, and clearly anyone of means or resources could easily breach it.
There are signs that they have already done so. ISIS has posted and tweeted photographs of their flag flying in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, with the message, “We are in your cities.” Just this week, the United Kingdom raised their terrorist threat assessment from “substantial” to “severe” in response to the rising danger ISIS poses globally.
In the 1990’s, Al Qaeda declared war on the U.S. We didn’t take it seriously and dealt with terrorist attacks as incidents for law enforcement. We all remember what that led to. And according to Secretary Hagel, this threat is greater. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that the FBI would investigate the beheading of journalist James Foley. Is history repeating itself, due to incompetence and an ideologically driven approach to assessing and addressing our exogenous threats? Regrettably, it appears so.
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].