— Sen. John McCain, 1997
Libya, Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine or Iran: Today the opinion among conservatives and even a few progressives is that President Obama isn’t doing enough in any of these hot spots. For proof they point at his recent foreign policy disapproval numbers, which are more a frustrated reaction to world events beyond Obama’s control and less about how the president is or isn’t addressing all the divergent crises.
Yet, with every foreign flare up in some godforsaken desert, conservatives scream “Do something!” at Obama.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a question for McCain, which she asked in a recent Vanity Fair interview: “What are we not doing that you would have us do?”
There is little appetite in the United States for more overseas misadventures, according to a recent Politico poll that showed two-thirds of Americans say military action should be “limited to direct threats to our national security.” Just 22 percent said America “has a responsibility to use its military to protect democracy around the globe.”
So, unlike his predecessor, Obama asks a lot of questions before pulling the trigger. He gauges the risks and weighs the lives of American troops and treasure against the proposed mission’s objectives to avoid unintended consequences such as those that led to a decade of war in Iraq.
Embittered after losing the 2008 presidential race to Obama, the 77-year-old McCain characterizes the president’s measured caution as weakness, cowardliness and appeasement.
But recall the Arizona senator was a prominent Iraq war cheerleader who could not have been more wrong about the invasion or its aftermath.
“We will win this conflict,” McCain predicted in 2002. “We will win it easily.”
Hoping you’d forgotten, McCain appeared on TV Sunday demanding a U.S. military response in Syria and Iraq. Conservative pundits followed this up by falsely blaming the ISIS insurgency on Obama, claiming he pulled troops out of Iraq too early. They know this is false. Under the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement, American troops had to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, well before ISIS appeared on the scene.
No matter what he says now, McCain was right back in 1997. America cannot police the planet because it’s full of murderous dictators such as Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong-un, and vicious terrorists such as ISIS, the Tamil Tigers and Shining Path. Their barbarity is outrageous, but where is the threat to the American homeland or interests?
McCain refuses to help Obama fix the problems plaguing this country, but he wants us to save Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan by spilling even more American blood?
In cooperation with our allies, we should deliver comfort, aid and even limited military assistance as we’re doing for the Christians, Yazidis and Kurds threatened by ISIS. But it is absolutely not America’s responsibility to repair the centuries-old schism between Islam’s Shia and Sunnis, two sects that appear bent on slaughtering each other.
Do we really want our sons or daughters, fathers, mothers or brothers re-deploying to Iraq again, this time to battle ISIS terrorists, or fighting and dying in Ukraine, or landing under fire on the shores of Iran?
Do we want to see them in combat alongside Israeli troops in their never-ending blood feud with Hamas? Should they fight the Taliban in Afghanistan forever?
We tried war. It pretty much got us where we are today. So Obama is taking a peaceful approach, which is the point of Ambassador Power’s question.
What hard-won experience has taught us is that sanctions, diplomacy, negotiations, influence and goodwill win more friends and allies than mindlessly dropping the world’s biggest hammer just because you think every problem America faces looks like a nail.
Thankfully, we have a president who learned that lesson.
Kevin Foley is an author, writer and public relations executive who lives in Kennesaw.