AEIdeas » Marc Thiessen The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute Wed, 30 Jul 2014 21:01:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Obama refused ‘repeated requests’ since August 2013 for drone strikes against ISIS Wed, 23 Jul 2014 17:02:01 +0000 read more >]]> Breaking on Capitol Hill is the news that Iraqi officials began requesting almost a year ago for the US to carry out drone strikes against ISIS – but the requests were shot down by the White House. That stunning revelation came during a hearing on the situation in Iraq this morning.

The Hill reports:

During a hearing on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the administration knew six months ago that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) had established armed camps, staging areas and training grounds in Iraq’s western desert and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was threatening to attack the U.S.

“However, what the Administration did not say was that the Iraqi government had been urgently requesting drone strikes against ISIS camps since August 2013,” Royce continued.

“These repeated requests, unfortunately, were turned down,” he said. “I added my voice for drone strikes as ISIS convoys raced across the desert.”

The New York Times previously reported that in May 2014 Prime Minister Maliki had “secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas” and that “Iraq’s appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.”

But the fact that Iraqis have been begging for nearly a year for the US to strike ISIS with drones – and that those requests were repeatedly denied by Obama – was not previously known.

Obama regularly authorizes drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa. The White House even boasted that the president personally approves the “kill lists” himself.

Why on earth would he refuse to do the same in Iraq?  Was he hoping the problem would just go away?

This places culpability for the current fiasco in Iraq squarely on Obama’s shoulders. We already knew that the rise of ISIS was made possible by Obama’s decision to withdraw all American forces from Iraq, against the advice of his military commanders. But now we know that as ISIS was preparing its current offensive, Obama was warned of the coming danger–and refused Iraqi requests to strike ISIS before they recaptured American-liberated cities across Iraq.

The incompetence of this administration is simply mind-boggling.

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Americans support Obama’s foreign policy decisions, but not his foreign policy Tue, 22 Jul 2014 19:35:45 +0000 read more >]]> A new Politico poll finds that there is wide support for President Obama’s foreign policy choices:

  • Just 17% of Americans say the US should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine (note: the poll was taken before the shoot-down of Malaysian Flight 17).
  • 77% support the current plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
  • 44% favor less involvement in Iraq’s “civil war” while just 19% favor more involvement – and a 51% majority said the situation in Iraq affects US national security “a little” or “not at all.”
  • 42% favor less involvement in Syria’s civil war while just 15% support more involvement.

Looks like Obama is doing pretty much everything Americans want – withdrawing from Afghanistan, and minimizing our involvement in places like Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine. So Obama’s numbers should be rising in the polls when it comes to foreign policy, right?

Wrong. According to NBC News:

The percentage of Americans approving of President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign policy issues has dropped to the lowest level of his presidency as he faces multiple overseas challenges, including in Iraq, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll….

The poll was crafted before the instability in Iraq grabbed headlines, so it doesn’t contain questions on that subject…. But it shows an American public that has grown dissatisfied with President Obama on foreign policy and national security decisions.

Just 37 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, which is an all-time low in the survey, while 57 percent disapprove, an all-time high.

So how can it be that Americans agree with the major decisions Obama is making, yet they disapprove of his foreign policy?

Because Americans judge the commander in chief not on his foreign policy choices, but on the results of his foreign policy choices. And right now the result of Obama’s foreign policy choices is global chaos.

Americans do not like to see their president flailing on the world stage. They do not like it when terrorists recapture cities that American forces died to liberate. They do not like it when tin-pot dictators like Assad and Putin thumb their noses at the United States. They do not like it when America projects weakness to the world.

There is a reason why strong presidents do not look at the polls when making difficult national security decisions. Good commanders in chief know they will be judged not on the individual decisions they make but the results they produce. So they do what they believe is right, explain their decisions to the country, and rally the nation behind their policies. And if they get the decisions right, the polls – and history’s judgment – will vindicate them.

Obama is doing what Americans seem to want – but he is producing results Americans clearly do not want. That is why, while Americans seemingly support his decisions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine, they think he is an awful commander in chief.

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Why Obamacare is still not popular Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:19:08 +0000 read more >]]> Despite hitting its marks for sign-ups, Obamacare is more unpopular than ever. A Fox News poll last month found that 55% of Americans “wish it had never passed,” while only 38% supported the law.

How can that be? Democrats were sure that once they got past the roll-out fiasco and hit their sign-up goals, popular opinion would stabilize.

Politico reports that, despite 357,000 sign-ups in North Carolina, Obamacare “remains a major liability for Sen. Kay Hagan, who faces one of the toughest election races for any Senate Democrat this year.” How can it be that so many North Carolinians have signed-up for Obamacare but still oppose it?

The individual mandate, and the threat of a penalty, drove many sign-ups. A polling report by Perry Undem, an opinion research firm that specializes in health care, found that 40 percent of people in one focus group say they might not have signed up without the mandate…

Teresa Mendez, 38, a stay-at-home mother in Carrboro, N.C., got covered to avoid the potential penalty. Now she questions the value of her $135 monthly premium for a single policy. She didn’t get any subsidies and says that no one ever told them they were available to her.

“President Obama said we needed to do it or we would be fined. I did it, perhaps, because of the fine,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter at a clinic in Carrboro, not far from Raleigh. “I feel like it doesn’t help me.”

Politico cites a Kaiser Family poll last month which found that nearly half of people with Obamacare plans say it is difficult to afford the plans today, while more than half fear they will become unaffordable in the future. In other words, just because the administration had success in signing people up does not mean that even those people are supporters of Obamacare. Many Obamacare participants feel coerced. And if premiums go up, their feelings will not grow more positive with time.

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If Obama is bringing ‘tranquility’ to the world, I’d hate to see turmoil Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:45:53 +0000 read more >]]> White House spokesman Josh Earnest declared yesterday that President Obama has “substantially improved the … uh … the … you know … the tranquility of the … of the global community.”

Yes, tranquility. He actually said that. Watch it here:

Sorry Josh, the world is not tranquil. The world is on fire.

The question that prompted Earnest’s nonsensical claim was about a Wall Street Journal story which declared that “The breadth of global instability now unfolding hasn’t been seen since the late 1970s.”

The Journal is absolutely right. And like the 1970s, the turmoil we are seeing is a direct result of feckless leadership in the White House. When Obama came to the White House, he reached out to our enemies instead of standing with our allies. He slashed defense spending instead of increasing it. He restrained American power instead of projecting it.

Instead of restraint, our enemies saw weakness. They saw Obama retreat from Iraq … announce our complete withdrawal from Afghanistan …fail to enforce his red line in Syria …stand by while Russian invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea …“lead from behind” in Libya …fail to lead at all in places like Egypt, Yemen and Turkey …and “pivot” away from the Middle East in general.

Our adversaries stepped in to fill the vacuum left by America. As a result, Islamic radicals are ascendant everywhere.

But there is one major difference with the 1970s. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the Iranians overran our embassy, Jimmy Carter woke up and changed course. Starting in 1980, Carter announced that he would increase defense spending by 4.6% a year for the next five years. And in his 1980 State of the Union address, he announced what became known as the Carter Doctrine: the United States would use military force if necessary to defend our interests in the Persian Gulf.

Where is a similar announcement from Obama today? Is Obama reversing his defense cuts? Quite the opposite, he’s sending pink slips to our troops, and has given no indication that he is even reconsidering his planned complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.

So when people compare Obama to Jimmy Carter’s leadership in 1970s, the comparison is actually unfair …to Jimmy Carter.

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Why sending pink slips to our troops is a terrible idea Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:12:49 +0000 read more >]]> Fox News reports:

The Pentagon is laying off thousands of military officers, including those serving or who have recently served in Afghanistan.

Defense Department officials said the reductions are the result of mandatory spending cuts imposed by sequestration and are part of their larger plan to reduce the number of US soldiers from 520,000 to 450,000.

Roughly 2,600 captains and other officers have or will be laid off, with more expected, Fox News learned Friday.

Put aside, for a moment, the sheer ingratitude of sending pink slips to our deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Getting rid of these highly-experienced combat forces is strategically insane.

Any competent executive in the private sector knows successful businesses don’t push talent and experience out the door. If you spend millions of dollars training someone, you do everything in your power to retain them.

The same is true of our military. After a decade of combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, today the United States has the best trained, most capable, battle-hardened military force in the history of the world. They are a national security asset whose value is without measure. Why would we push them out the door? We should be doing everything we can to retain this pool of talented individuals.

Once these troops have left for civilian life, there is no way to get back that lost knowledge and experience down the line. A weapons system can be replaced. Combat experience cannot. No amount of training or exercises can replicate the unique store of knowledge our troops have built up on real fields of battle.

The Obama administration’s rationale for these force reductions is that, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ending, the US is not going to be fighting major ground wars anytime soon. Really? How do they know? We may not want to send American troops to fight another ground war, but the enemy gets a vote. The Middle East is on fire. North Korea is unstable. Terrorists are carving out new safe havens in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.  There are any number of scenarios in which the US may have to fight a war it did not ask for.

If we want to deter potential adversaries, they must know we have the capability to decisively defeat them. If they think that we are not ready or willing to engage them in ground combat, they are more likely to miscalculate. Drawing down our forces too rapidly makes war more, not less, likely.

We need these battle-hardened troops – because we need their experience, and because we need them to pass it on to the next generation of soldiers who, we hope, may not see combat on a scale that the current generation has.

Getting rid of them is no way to treat the troops who have protected us in the post-9/11 world. It is also bad national security policy.

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Um, no, the military did not ‘support’ the Bergdahl exchange – it wasn’t asked Fri, 11 Jul 2014 20:50:47 +0000 read more >]]> In a piece titled “Top US Military Leaders Supported Bergdahl Exchange,” The Wall Street Journal reports:

Top US military leaders fully supported the decision to exchange five Taliban prisoners to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan for five years, according to letters released Thursday.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and its chairman unanimously supported the decision to swap the detainees to win the freedom of Sgt. Bergdahl, said the letters, released by Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich), who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Um, no they didn’t.

The story continues:

The operation to free Sgt. Bergdahl was closely held, and the letters revealed that out of the seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, only Gen. Dempsey and Adm. James Winnefeld knew the details of the mission.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the chief of staff of the Army, said “he was not consulted in any way” about the decision to release Sgt. Bergdahl, but he supported the move.

In other words — except for Gen. Dempsey and Admiral Winnefeld — our top military leaders were not asked before the fact what they thought. It’s not accurate to say they “supported” the decision, because they were not asked. They were not “consulted in any way” before the fact. Rather, they were asked to endorse the decision publicly after the fact.

Big difference.

What is this, North Korea? The great leader makes a decision and then demands a public loyalty oath from his generals? Of course, every member of the Joint Chiefs is going to say they support the decision now, after it has already happened.

It would have been interesting to find out what they thought beforehand, when they still had the ability to influence the president’s choice.

Maybe they would have supported the exchange, maybe they would not have. We’ll never know. Because no one asked their opinion when it could have made a difference.

But let’s be clear what this parade of letters, demanded by the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is – a PR stunt to give Obama cover for releasing five dangerous terrorists.

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Obama, Sgt. Shultz, and the German spy Wed, 09 Jul 2014 15:37:12 +0000 read more >]]> President Obama is once again publicly throwing the CIA under the bus – this time to send Chancellor Angela Merkel the message that, in the immortal words of Sgt. Shultz, he knew nothing – nothing! – about the CIA’s diabolical infiltration of German intelligence.

The New York Times reports today in a front page story:

When President Obama placed a call to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany last Thursday, he had a busy agenda: to consult with a close ally and to mobilize wavering Europeans to put more pressure on Russia to end its covert incursions in Ukraine.

What Mr. Obama did not know was that a day earlier, a young German intelligence operative had been arrested and had admitted that he had been passing secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency.

While Ms. Merkel chose not to raise the issue during the call, the fact that the president was kept in the dark about the blown spying operation at a particularly delicate moment in American relations with Germany has led frustrated White House officials to question who in the C.I.A.’s chain of command was aware of the case — and why that information did not make it to the Oval Office before the call….

At the White House, senior officials have expressed concern that the latest allegations could set back relations with Germany…. What is particularly baffling to these officials is that the C.I.A. did not inform the White House that its agent — a 31-year-old employee of Germany’s federal intelligence service, the BND — had been compromised, given his arrest the day before the two leaders spoke.

Granted, not telling the president before his call that a source in the German intelligence service had been compromised was a big mistake. But for Obama to publicly flog the agency for it by leaking its mistake on the front page of The New York Times reeks of a shameless CYA operation.

Worse, NSC spokesman Caitlin Hayden is quoted in the story declining comment, declaring “We’re certainly not going to discuss who knew what and when in regards to the allegations.”

Certainly not!

Where on earth does she think The New York Times got the story? From the CIA?

It must be so gratifying being a spy in the Obama era, knowing that the commander in chief has your back.

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You’ll never guess who the White House is blaming for the border crisis (Hint: His name is Bush) Tue, 08 Jul 2014 20:27:10 +0000 read more >]]> Well, that didn’t take long. Apparently the president responsible for the current border crisis is not Barack Obama, but rather — you guessed it — George W. Bush.

In story titled “Immigrant Surge Rooted in Law to Curb Child Trafficking,” The New York Times reports:

It was one of the final pieces of legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush, a measure which passed without controversy.

“This is a piece of legislation we’re very proud to sign,” a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, told reporters on Dec. 23, 2008, as the president put his pen to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 ….

Now the legislation, enacted quietly during the transition to the Obama administration, is at the root of a potentially calamitous flow of unaccompanied minors to the nation’s southern border.

So let’s get this straight: President Bush signed a sex trafficking law in 2008 – and that law is somehow responsible for the sudden surge of 56,000 unaccompanied minors to the border in 2014? The law has been in place for nearly six years. If it is the cause of the current crisis, why didn’t tens of thousands of minors come rushing to our border six years ago when the law was signed? Why did they wait until 2014?

Maybe because what sparked the current crisis was not Bush’s 2008 law, as the White House claims, but Obama’s executive order offering “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which allows children who had immigrated illegally to delay deportation. According to The Hill, “More than 550,000 youths have received the two-year deportation deferrals, which are now being renewed for another two years.” News of the signing of this executive order and the hundreds of thousands of deportation deferrals set off rumors across the hemisphere that unaccompanied minor children could stay if they made it to America. Now they are coming by the tens of thousands.

The Bush-era law does make it harder for the government to return minors from Central America. But if it is supposedly the cause of the crisis, why then is the White House backing off on asking Congress to make changes in the law to facilitate deportations? Obama had indicated he would seek changes as a part of a $2 billion request for emergency border security funding, but when liberal immigration groups complained, he reversed course. Now, the Times reports “On Capitol Hill, Democrats said they expected the administration’s initial request for border money would not push for change in the trafficking law.” How can Obama and his allies argue that the Bush-era law is responsible for the crisis, but then not ask Congress to change the law?

This is a crisis of Obama’s own making. And he appears to have no plan to fix it.

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The coming al Qaeda comeback Wed, 02 Jul 2014 14:15:26 +0000 read more >]]> The New York Times reports:

For the first time since its emergence more than two decades ago, the Qaeda of Osama bin Laden finds itself facing a rival jihadist organization [in ISIS] with the resources and influence to threaten its status as the flagship movement of violent extremism. For the moment, Al Qaeda has lost ground, but the question remains: Will this new group, which now calls itself simply the Islamic State, endure? …

Al Qaeda’s central leadership has been waning in power and influence for years. American drone strikes have limited the ability of its leaders to manage their far-flung affiliates, and Mr. Zawahri, who took over after the death of Bin Laden, is widely seen as out of touch and lacking the charisma to inspire young militants. This younger generation has been wooed through ISIS’ social media campaigns and finds its activist approach to statehood more inspiring than Al Qaeda’s long-term vision.

“Al Qaeda is an organization and we are a state,” said an ISIS fighter who gave his name as Abu Omar in an online chat. “Osama bin Laden, God have mercy on him, was fighting to establish the Islamic state to rule the world, and — praise God — we have achieved his dream.”

To bin Laden’s successor, Ayman Zawahiri, those are fighting words. Not only has ISIS declared an Islamic state, it has demanded that all Muslims swear allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – effectively declaring him to be bin Laden’s true successor.

No doubt the Zawahiri-led al Qaeda will not take this challenge to its supremacy in the radical Islamist world sitting down. But with ISIS attracting militants and consolidating its control over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, the original al Qaeda will need to make a comeback by staking ground elsewhere.

The natural place to do that is in Afghanistan. Just as ISIS took advantage of the power vacuum America created with its withdrawal from Iraq, al Qaeda knows that America is about to leave and create a similar power vacuum in Afghanistan. Unlike Iraq, where ISIS was defeated when America withdrew, al Qaeda’s allies — the Taliban — are far from defeated in Afghanistan. Just this week, the Washington Post reports, the Taliban launched a military assault “in Helmand province in its most ambitious attempt this year to seize ground as the U.S. combat mission winds down in Afghanistan.”

What this means is that when America withdraws all its troops by 2016, as President Obama is planning to do, it will not take long for the Taliban to regroup and retake territory it had lost to the Americans. Then al Qaeda will be free to return to Afghanistan and reestablish the safe haven it lost in that country after the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, without bases in Afghanistan, America will be unable to carry out drone strikes in Pakistan, giving al Qaeda freer movement within the trial regions of Pakistan.

With a challenge from ISIS and a restored safe haven, al Qaeda will have both the incentive and asylum it needs to do something spectacular to regain the momentum in the struggle for leadership of the radical Islamic movement. A resurgent al Qaeda will provide a similar incentive to ISIS to maintain its newfound supremacy.

As a result, there will be two Islamic caliphates – one in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the other in Iraq/Syria – competing with each other for the hearts and minds of the jihadist faithful.

Which means they will both be competing to be the first to attack us.

What can be done to prevent this scenario from unfolding? The first step is getting the situation in Iraq under control again, which will be an immense challenge. Danielle Pletka and Gen. Jack Keane have laid out a plan to do it.

The second step is to learn from the lessons of our Iraq withdrawal, so we don’t repeat them in Afghanistan. That means cancelling Obama’s plans for a complete withdrawal in 2016. Our Iraq withdrawal has allowed a mortal danger to emerge in the rise of ISIS. A zero option in Afghanistan will have the same result.

If we leave, the terrorists will follow us home.

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Truman, Obama, and the perils of chasing popularity Mon, 30 Jun 2014 15:32:48 +0000 read more >]]> In today’s Washington Post, I explain how with his policies of retreat and withdrawal, Barack Obama is rejecting the legacy not of George W. Bush, but Harry Truman.

Instead of being led by popular sentiment for withdrawal after World War II, Truman kept US forces in Germany to deter the Soviet Union and in Japan to deter Communist China. When Stalin threatened Berlin, he launched the Berlin Airlift, and established the Truman Doctrine to save Greece and Turkey from communism. When communist forces threatened the Korean peninsula, he launched the Korean War. Instead of focusing on nation building at home, he launched the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and presided over the post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation of Japan. The military footprint he established in Europe and Asia helped democratic allies emerge from the rubble of war, and secured seven decades of peace and prosperity for America and the world.

None of these policies made Harry Truman popular in his time, but history has recognized Truman as one of the 20th century’s great statesmen. The same will not be true of Barack Obama. In withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama is ostensibly doing what Americans want. Yet his approval rating is at record lows, and a CBS News/New York Times poll last week found that 58% of Americans disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy – the highest disapproval he has registered since taking office. It turns out Americans may want to bring our troops home, but they don’t want to see America weak and helpless on the world stage either.

If you chase popularity, at the expense of doing what is right, you rarely catch the popularity you seek. If Obama stays on his current course, he will have the worst of both worlds. He will leave office unpopular, just like Truman. But unlike Truman, he will find not vindication, but condemnation, in history’s verdict.

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