If a monument is to be created commemorating President Barack Obama’s anti-terrorism and foreign policy legacy, etched in marble above it should be the phrase: “What Not To Do—A Legacy of Failure.” Indeed, we now see in blinding light the eight year experiment in appeasement and abdication of leadership: more terrorism, more death. The bookends of his presidency begin with his first interview as president, on an Arabic television network; his first acts as president in trying to close Guantanamo and in ending enhanced interrogation, theorizing such acts would “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great;” and his first tour commencing in Turkey and going through Saudi Arabia, ending in Egypt.
About Guantanamo, he would go on to say the prison was “a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause.” In Turkey, he would speak of America’s “darker days,” while also praising Recep Erdogan. In thinking Guantanamo helped al Qaeda in its recruitment, he never thought to look at the calendar that ran from the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing to the 1998 African Embassy Bombings to the 2000 USS Cole bombing, to the 2001 World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks—all when there was no Guantanamo prison.
While his tour through the Middle East in that first year did take him from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the curious country he did not visit, the one most aligned with American values, the tip of the spear in the war against terrorism, and the bull’s eye for most of it, was Israel. Then came his radio address to the Iranians, putting the people and the leadership on equal moral footing. Then the miraculous Iranian Green Revolution, where a unique organic uprising seeking American support against the mullahs arose—and President Obama famously abetted its equally quick death by saying he did not want the United States to “be seen as meddling.” Not content enough in appeasing the Mullahcracy, his State Department invited Iranian diplomats around the world to come to American embassies for hot dogs on July 4 of that year. Along the way that year, the administration also publicized it would no longer speak of “the war on terror” or “jihadists.”
Someone or someones did not get all these memos and statements. Or, more likely, maybe they did: when they go low, we blame ourselves. That first year ended with the Fort Hood massacre and the attempted massacre that would have come from the successful bombing of Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit. “Attempted,” because then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked.” It worked, alright, if the system was the chance, single, brave civilian passenger from the Netherlands who stopped the terrorist on the flight. The rest of the “system” let a known radical board a plane with a bomb.
Along the way we would get more and more diplomatic and rhetorical appeasement. This would include the non-application of the “not meddling” doctrine with allies like Hosni Mubarak and Benjamin Netanyahu. Or its non-application in Libya (what President Obama calls his “worst mistake.”). This would include comparing Islamic terrorism (in front of the U.N., no less) to the police doing their job in Ferguson, Missouri. And it would include comparing modern day Islamic terrorism to the centuries’ old Crusades and Christianity, saying we Americans should not be on “a high horse,” language quite familiar to fatwa readers, not so much to Americans.
Results? After Fort Hood, we would go on to see more Islamic terrorism not only abroad, with the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram, but here at home the terrible toll at the Boston Marathon, and in Chattanooga, San Bernardino, and Orlando. There was Nice, Berlin, Paris, Brussels. And so much more. And we ended 2016, back where we started, in Turkey: 39 dead in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Syria thought it could cross President Obama’s “red line,” and it was right–and it now looks like Beirut circa the 1980s. And Iraq, “sovereign, stable and self-reliant,” only five years ago, gets put back on Donald Trump’s plate.
For all the late honesty of the political class who admitted they got so much of the 2016 election wrong, let us now have similar honesty about what the policy of appeasement, American abdication, and self-blame has brought. In like a lamb in 2009, out like a charnel house.