State of the Union: ISIL is Obama's Major Foreign Policy Challenge
By John Ubaldi
Contributor to In Homeland Security
Managing Editor of Ubaldi Reports
On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address focused almost entirely on the economy. Missing from the address was any coherent strategy for the growing list of foreign policy challenges confronting the United States. Also absent from the president’s State of the Union Address was any mention of al-Qaida.
The president stated in his address, “Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America. In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”
The U.S. is waging a military campaign against ISIL, but America’s ultimate strategy for degrading and destroying ISIL remains unclear. The president never mentioned how the U.S. will engage Syria and that country’s ISIL sanctuaries.
President Obama mentioned, “We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.”
The Syrian opposition the president speaks about is reeling from attacks by the military forces of President Bashar al-Assad and ISIL Islamic fighters. The Pentagon intends to send military trainers to the Middle East to train and equip more than 5,000 Syrian opposition forces who are expected to be ready by March 2016. This is hardly a substantial force to confront ISIL forces of upward of 50, 000 and growing.
“Tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL,” stated President Obama in his address. This begs the question – what type of authorization is the president requesting? Will this authorization in the use of force only be limited to Syria and ISIL Islamic fighters in Iraq and what about other parts of the Middle East? Will this include waging war against other Islamic fundamentalist groups in the region? The president never mentioned this or al-Qaida and the region’s affiliates.
Currently, the U.S.-backed Yemeni government is facing attacks by Shiite Houthi rebels who entered the presidential palace in the capital city of Sana’a. Additionally, a coup against President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is ongoing.
Time magazine reported that Hadi is a key U.S. ally in the war against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but his grip on power was pounded by Houthi forces over the past four months. Fighting between Hadi’s Sunni government and the Shiite Houthis, has created a vacuum that experts fear AQAP will exploit to expand its power base in the increasingly lawless nation.
Time continued, Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French brothers of Muslim descent, said that they carried out their attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, on behalf of AQAP. “Tell the media that this is al-Qaida in Yemen!” the Kouachi brothers shouted outside the magazine after their massacre.
Only last September, President Obama touted Yemen as a success story, “I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” speaking from the White House to the nation. “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 and Somalia for years.”
Right now, the U.S. has a Marine amphibious task force off the coast of Yemen in preparation for the possible evacuation of the American embassy; this crisis has to be dealt with.
The other region of the world, where the president’s comments are different from reality on the ground, is in Ukraine.
“We are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy. We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.”
The Russian economy is indeed in tatters, but Russian forces are now in Eastern Ukraine, and Russian aggression has not been curtailed, it is emboldened. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not isolated, and this week he signed a military cooperation agreement with Iran.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama had the perfect opportunity to articulate a coherent strategy to deal with the foreign policy challenges facing the U.S., but he failed to deliver.
Unfortunately these issues will not go away, and we will again have to deal with them, whether we like it or not.
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