By: Marco Rubio
September 12, 2014
President Obama’s call on Wednesday for the United States to lead an international military campaign in the Middle East has the potential to begin a departure from the isolationism that he and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton have advocated during their years in office. There is a risk, however, that the president’s focus on a counterterrorism campaign akin to those waged in Yemen and Somalia, and his reliance on regional partners to deal with the challenge posed by the Islamic State, could lead to the continuation of what has been the most disengaged presidential foreign policy in modern American history.
From his focus on prematurely ending wars in the interest of “nation-building here at home” to his abandonment of America’s traditional allies in an effort to placate America’s enemies, President Obama has made it clear that he is different from his post-World War II predecessors. The question now is whether, facing this new threat, the president will rise to the occasion and truly reassert American leadership.
Five and a half years of the Obama/Clinton worldview has given Americans a graphic and often horrific view of the chaos that is unleashed in the world when America walks away from its traditional role as the guarantor of global security. From Syria and Iraq to eastern Ukraine and the South China Sea, we are seeing what the world will look like if our leaders continue choosing detachment: more violence, rivals and partners alike taking advantage of our inaction, and a steady increase in threats to our citizens and to our prosperity.
The Obama administration did not advocate this global retreat on its own. Members of my own Republican Party have also at times embraced the Democrats’ narrative that too much American leadership is the problem, rather than the solution to global instability. Not too long ago, some neo-isolationists even claimed that America has no significant national interest in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and that American support for the Syrian opposition fueled the growth of the Islamic State.
The truth is that, when the Syrian people rose up in 2011 in protest against Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule, our vital national interest was to prevent a protracted civil war in which radical jihadists from all over the world could rush into a vacuum. If they could seize operational spaces, they could use them to plan and carry out attacks against our allies and ultimately America.
In the early stages of this conflict, responsible, bipartisan voices called for U.S. leadership, hoping precisely to prevent the outcome we have now seen play out. I urged Secretary Clinton and President Obama to intervene decisively to oust Assad and to identify and arm the moderate Syrian opposition. Instead, we were told that Assad was a “reformer” and that we should not get involved. At a critical decision point early in the Syrian crisis, when our involvement could have swayed the outcome, the isolationist voices won. America effectively stood on the sidelines, letting the problem fester for more than three years as the moderates opposing the regime were pushed aside by better-funded and better-armed jihadists. Meanwhile, the administration’s incoherent policy further empowered Assad, strengthening his grip on power as chaos, violence and refugeesspilled across Syria’s borders, threatening the entire region.
Some former Obama administration officials, notably Secretary Clinton, have tried to argue that they advocated internally for a different approach, that they saw the train wreck coming. But the fact of the matter is that when they were in positions of responsibility, they failed to prevent the situation that now exists. “What are we going to arm them with and against what?” Secretary Clinton said of the Syrian opposition in 2012. She and other administration officials who found their voices only after they left office were complicit in implementing and publicly defending the president’s disastrous foreign policies — and we’ll be dealing with the consequences for decades to come.
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