The state of U.S. foreign policy under President Obama resembles nothing so much as the mess surrounding Obamacare. This was the grim message of Thursday’s event at The Heritage Foundation.
The event featured chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R–TX), followed by a panel of experts on Islamist terrorism: Frank Cilluffo of the Homeland Security Institute, Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute, and Heritage Foundation South Asia senior research fellow Lisa Curtis.
The root of the problem is the Obama doctrine itself, a concept that previous Heritage panels have also attempted to define. McCaul called the Obama doctrine a “contradiction in terms,” as it is based on a negative: the belief that the United States cannot claim to be an “exceptional nation.” The nation, therefore, has no particular mission in the world and should reduce its footprint.
The lack of faith in America’s fundamental role in the world has led the Obama Administration to both inconsistency and inaction, which have harmed American national security and relationships with critical allies in the war on terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Red lines are drawn and then mysteriously cease to exist. Outrage is followed by inaction. Opportunities to support real progress are missed again and again.
Abdicating foreign policy leadership has led the Obama Administration to a state of denial about the threat of global terrorism. The U.S. State Department, U.S. embassies and diplomats, and even the U.S. military have scrubbed the word terror from their vocabularies. Obama himself speaks of being in a “pre-September 11” state with al-Qaeda “on the run.”
Yet the slew of recent terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Boston, and Nigeria (to name a few) show a different reality. Curtis remarked that being able to define the problem is a crucial step in being able to act effectively, harkening back to a seminal Heritage working group report. Blinding itself to the real threat, the Obama Administration is veering toward President Clinton’s law enforcement approach to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and away from the military response of the Bush years. Yet, reminded McCaul, “jihadists are not common criminals.”
Fighting the terrorist groups that are metastasizing from Pakistan to the Middle East and throughout Africa requires allies and long-term relationships. But because of the Obama Administration’s weak and inconsistent foreign policy in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia are now looking for options to protect themselves if (or when) Iran develops nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia has downgraded its intelligence sharing with the U.S. And the Egyptian military, for decades a cornerstone for the U.S. in the Middle East, feels deeply betrayed by having American aid canceled after it removed the dictatorial President Mohamed Morsi from power.
“I believe this President is weak on national security and quite simply not interested in it,” said McCaul. The big picture of where U.S. counterterrorism and Middle East policy stands today, presented with great clarity by McCaul, should concern every American. This is particularly so as the Obama Administration is in a state of denial about the very real threats still facing this country.