“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see farther into the future.” – Madeleine Albright, secretary of state (1997–2001), Clinton administration
It is a judgment on Barack Obama’s timorous, apologetic, and irresponsible conduct of foreign affairs that Madeleine Albright’s words, spoken little more than 15 years ago, now sound as antique as a pronouncement by Harry Truman at the onset of the Cold War, the great challenge America confronted bravely and without equivocation generations ago. Obama has set in motion policies meant to make America far from indispensable – a diminished nation that “leads from behind,” if at all; a nation with a downsized military, chronically uncertain about its meaning and its mission as it skulks in the wings of the world stage.
Albright made her statement about Iraq when Democrats were still supporting their country’s confrontation with the sadistic dictator Saddam Hussein, and before they defected from the war, shortly after its battles were under way. Obama opposed America’s war with Iraq and then opposed the military surge that finally brought victory. As president, Obama presided over the withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq, against the wishes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wanted a continuing military presence – withdrawal paid for in the blood of thousands of American men and women in arms. Obama thus turned that benighted nation over to the malign influences of America’s chief enemy in the Middle East, Iran.
Far from shouldering his responsibility as the commander-in-chief of America’s global War on Terror and embracing it as this generation’s equivalent of the Cold War, Obama showed his distaste for the entire enterprise by dropping the term “War on Terror” and replacing it with an Orwellian phrase – “overseas contingency operations.” Minimizing the Islamist threat to the United States is not an oversight of the Obama administration; that is its policy.
It should not have been difficult for Obama to make the nation’s defense a priority when he became America’s commander-in-chief in January 2009. The American homeland had already experienced a devastating attack, which terrorists have been constantly trying to repeat. The number of foreign states openly supporting terror has steadily risen during Obama’s tenure. The most dangerous Islamist regime, Iran, is building nuclear weapons, while Washington dithers over pointless negotiations. As secular governments give way to Islamist regimes in Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq, and with the Taliban on the rise in Afghanistan and an American withdrawal imminent, the parallels to the early Cold War are eerie, the implications equally dire. Yet instead of policies that put U.S. national security first and are pursued without hesitation or apology, Obama’s time in office has been marked by retreat and accommodation and even support of Islamist foes – most ominously of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which swept aside an American ally with Obama’s help and is busily creating a totalitarian state.
Obama’s Foreign-Policy Disasters
In the four years since Obama’s first inauguration, almost three times as many Americans have been killed in Afghanistan as in the eight years of the Bush administration. Withdrawal, not victory, has been Obama’s goal from the outset, and now it is the only outcome possible. During the Obama years, there have been more than 8,000 Islamic terrorist attacks on “infidels” across the globe, a 25 percent increase over the number when the fighting in Iraq was at its height. In the face of this bloody and intensifying Islamist offensive, Obama has tried to convince the American people that the war against al-Qaeda has been essentially “won” – by him – and that the terrorist threat is subsiding. Denial of the war that Islamists have declared on us, and of the threat it represents, is the heart of the Obama doctrine and has guided this nation’s policies for more than four years.
Obama’s desire for rapprochement with the Islamist regime in Iran has prompted the administration to drag its feet on the sanctions designed to halt Tehran’s nuclear program. For the same reason, the president and his administration were silent when hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran to call for an end to the dictatorship and were met by an orgy of violence from the mullahs’ thugs. Because of the White House’s moral and political timidity, its denial of the Islamist threat, and its conviction that America (presumably an even greater predator) has no right to condemn another nation, Iran reached its tipping point and went the wrong way.
The administration’s denial was glaring also in its response to the massacre of 13 unarmed soldiers at Fort Hood by an Islamic fanatic and terrorist, Nidal Malik Hasan, who three and a half years later still has not been brought to trial. Hasan infiltrated the American military and, despite open expressions of hatred for the West, was promoted to the rank of U.S. Army major. The Obama administration’s Kafkaesque response to an obvious case of Islamist violence against the U.S. was to classify the terrorist attack as an incident of “workplace violence,” and thus to hide the fact that Hasan was a Muslim soldier in a war against the infidels of the West.
This inability to name our enemies was on display again on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, as jihadists staged demonstrations and launched attacks against American embassies in Egypt and other Islamic countries. In Libya, al-Qaeda terrorists overran an American consular compound and murdered the U.S. ambassador and three brave staffers. The attack took place in a country that had recently been destabilized by Obama’s own intervention to oust its dictator. Again, Obama had denounced a military intervention in Iraq as senator; that intervention, unlike his Libyan adventure, had been authorized by both houses of Congress and a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution. As president, Obama had invoked the principle of non-intervention to justify his passivity in the face of atrocities in Syria and Iran. But in Libya he conducted an unauthorized invasion of a country that posed no threat to the United States and was not, as Syria is, in alliance with the mullahs of Iran and the terrorists of Hezbollah. The chaos that followed Obama’s Libyan intervention led directly to the rise of the local al-Qaeda, which planted its flag atop the same American outpost in Benghazi it later destroyed.
The events in Benghazi were a stark revelation of the consequences of a foreign policy without a moral compass. The battle over the embassy lasted seven hours. Although the Obama learned about the attack shortly after it began, and although the embattled Americans inside the compound begged the White House for help, and although U.S. fighter jets were stationed in Italy only an hour away, the president, in one of the most shameful acts in the history of that office, denied help by leaving his post, so that only silence answered their desperate calls. The president and his administration then went into cover-up mode, lying to Congress and the American people, pretending for weeks afterward that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Mohammed video, whose director they then threw in jail.
Before his overthrow, the dictator Moammar Qaddafi warned that his demise would unleash the forces of the Islamic jihad not only in his own country but throughout North Africa. This was a prophecy quickly realized. In the aftermath of Obama’s intervention, al-Qaeda in Mali took control of an area twice the size of Germany. In Tunisia and Egypt, jihadists emerged as the ruling parties, with the acquiescence and even assistance of the Obama administration. In Syria, a savage civil war metastasized unimpeded, killing tens of thousands and eventually pitting a fascist regime allied with Iran against rebel forces largely aligned with al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
As these disasters unfolded, the White House not only did not oppose the Islamists but armed and enabled them. Obama had previously intervened in Egypt, the largest and most important country in the Middle East, to force the removal of its pro-American leader, Hosni Mubarak. He then promoted the Brotherhood’s ascension to power by portraying it as a “moderate” actor in the democratic process. As the Middle East situation deteriorated, the Muslim Brotherhood became the chief beneficiary of America’s financial, diplomatic, and military support. This same Brotherhood was the driving force behind the Islamist surge, the mentor of Osama bin Laden and the leaders of al-Qaeda, and the creator of Hamas. Rather than being quarantined, the Brotherhood-dominated government in Cairo has received hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid and F-16 bomber jets from the Obama administration that had facilitated its rise to power.
Appeasement of Islamist Enemies
To allay concerns about the emergence of the Brotherhood, Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, uttered this justification for its acceptance by the White House: “We believe… that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to non-violence, that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency.” In these words, Clinton was referring to an organization whose spiritual leader, Yusef al-Qaradawi, had recently called for a second Holocaust of the Jews, “Allah willing, at the hands of the believers,” and to a party that was calling for the establishment of a Muslim caliphate in Jerusalem and for the destruction of the Jewish state. Soon after Clinton’s endorsement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, was elected Egypt’s new leader and was referring to Jews as apes and pigs. Secure in the support of the American administration, he wasted no time in abolishing the constitution and instituting a dictatorship with no serious protest from the United States. Senator John Kerry, shortly to be Hillary Clinton’s successor as secretary of state, had visited the new dictator only months before this destruction of Egypt’s civic space. Kerry assured the world that the new Muslim Brotherhood regime was “committed to protecting fundamental freedoms.”
As in Egypt, so in Syria. Both Clinton and Kerry promoted the ruthless dictator Assad as a political reformer and friend of democracy just as he was preparing to launch a war against his own people. (Meeting with Assad, Kerry called Syria “an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.”) Shortly thereafter, the dictator began a series of massacres of his own population. Obama ignored the resulting tens of thousands of fatalities and the international calls for a humanitarian intervention – just as he had ignored the desperate struggle of the Green Revolution in the streets of Tehran three years earlier. The chaos in Syria has now led to the emergence of al-Qaeda as a leading actor among the rebel forces, under the revealing name “the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” The very name indicates the potential scope of the disaster that the Obama administration is presiding over in the Middle East.
Republican Retreat On National Security
Until the “new politics” presidency of Jimmy Carter, the Democratic party during the Cold War would never have tolerated such abject capitulations to totalitarian forces. And when Carter showed such doubt and denial, the Republican party could be counted on to defend the morality of American power and carry the fight to the enemy. The Republicans did so with the conviction that they were expressing the deepest convictions of the American people.
In domestic politics, the American people preferred Democratic promoters of the welfare state to Republican proponents of fiscal restraint. The same electorate switched its vote, however, when the issue was protecting the American homeland. While voters made Democrats the majority party in the people’s House for 38 of the 42 years of America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, in 28 of those years they elected a Republican to be their commander-in-chief. Moreover, three of the four Democrats who did make it to the White House – Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson – were militant anti-Communists and military hawks who on national-security issues held views indistinguishable from those of Republicans.
Given that the most durable lesson of postwar electoral history was that Democrats win national elections on domestic policy and that Republicans win on national security, it seems incomprehensible that the Obama administration has been able to degrade American power virtually without Republican opposition. At the Republican party’s 2012 convention in Tampa, its nominee, Mitt Romney, failed to mention the Islamic jihad and devoted only one sentence to the fact that, in order to appease America’s enemies, Obama had thrown Israel, America’s only dependable ally in the region, “under the bus.” Romney did not mention Obama’s role as enabler of the Muslim Brotherhood or the millions of dollars his administration had given to the Palestinian jihadists on the West Bank and in Gaza, whose official goal was the destruction of Israel and its Jews. He did not mention the calls by the Islamist leaders of Egypt and Iran for the destruction of the Jewish state and the completion of the job that Hitler started.
Romney devoted exactly two sentences to Obama’s appeasement of the Russians and his abandonment of America’s Eastern European allies, which were harmed by the president’s reneging on America’s commitments to their missile defense. About the Korean peninsula, a flashpoint in national security and a theater for the current administration’s diplomatic dithering, Romney said nothing.
While Romney failed to confront a vulnerable Obama on national-security issues and gave Obama a pass on his shameful betrayal of his embassy in Benghazi, no other Republican campaign was likely to make the holy war that Islamists are waging against us, and Obama’s feckless national-security policies, a focal point of their attack. At one time or another, there were ten Republican candidates for the nomination that Romney won. Each of them participated in at least three of 20 public debates; two of the candidates participated in all of them. There were candidates for social conservatism, candidates for fiscal responsibility and job creation, candidates for libertarian principles and moderate values. But there was not one Republican candidate whose campaign was an aggressive assault on Obama’s disastrous national-security decisions and how they had imperiled America’s interests and its basic safety.
The extent of the Republican retreat on national security was dramatized by an incident that took place a few months before the election. In a letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general, Representative Michele Bachmann and four other Republican House members asked him to look into the possibility of Islamist influence in the Obama administration. The letter expressed concern about State Department policies that “appear to be a result of influence operations conducted by individuals and organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.” The letter then listed five specific ways in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had actively assisted the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power in Egypt, producing in the Middle East a decisive shift toward the jihadist enemies of the United States.
The letter specifically asked for an inquiry into the activities of Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and principal adviser on Muslim affairs. It was a reasonable, indeed a necessary, request. Members of Abedin’s family – her late father, her mother, and her brother – were all identifiable leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. For twelve years prior to being hired by Hillary Clinton, Abedin herself had worked for an organization founded by Abdullah Omar Naseef – a major Brotherhood figure, a close associate of Abedin’s mother – one of the three principal financiers of Osama bin Laden, and a man dedicated to promoting Islamic-supremacist doctrines. A second figure with Muslim Brotherhood ties occupying a high place in the Obama administration was Rashad Hussain, deputy associate White House counsel, who had responsibilities in the areas of national security and Muslim affairs. And there were others.
In other words, people with high-level Muslim Brotherhood connections occupy positions of influence in the Obama administration on matters related to national security and Muslim affairs – at the same time Obama’s policies have encouraged the dramatic rise of the previously outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East. Yet when the congressional letter surfaced, Bachmann and her colleagues came under savage attack as McCarthyites and “Islamophobes,” whose request for an inquiry was itself deemed un-American. These attacks came not only from the Washington Post, leading Democrats, and such well-known apologists for Islamists as Georgetown’s John Esposito, but also from Republicans John McCain and John Boehner. Without bothering to address the facts the Bachmann letter presented, McCain said, “When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches vicious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are, in ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poor because of it.” In other words, Bachmann and her colleagues were bigots. Said Boehner: “I don’t know Huma, but from everything that I do know of her she has a sterling character. Accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous.” In other words, asking reasonable questions about a woman with undeniable ties to the Muslim Brotherhood who stands at the center of American policy was more dangerous than allowing those ties to remain unexamined.
In the hands of today’s leftists, the terms “McCarthyite,” “Islamophobe,” and their equivalents are not descriptions of a political pathology but rather bludgeons wielded to shut down inquiry into behavior that may be harmful to the United States. Instead of rejecting these slurs as they are used to invoke a brutal cloture on a matter of national security, Republican leaders participated in the successful effort to suppress the debate.
The Betrayal of Iraq
Why this lack of conviction on a matter combining internal security and foreign policy, traditional pillars of Republican strength? The answer can be found in the way the Republicans allowed themselves to be intimidated and then silenced as the Left put forth its version of “the lessons of Iraq.” The moment when Republicans lost the national-security narrative – and abandoned their role as defenders of the homeland – came in June 2003, just six weeks after the Saddam regime fell. That month, the Democratic party launched a national television campaign claiming that Bush lied to the American people to lure them into a war that was “unnecessary,” “immoral,” and “illegal.”
Until that moment, the war in Iraq had been supported by both parties and was regarded by both as a strategic necessity in the larger War on Terror. Removing Saddam’s regime by force, moreover, had been a specific goal of U.S. policy since October 1998, when Bill Clinton, a Democratic president, signed the Iraqi Liberation Act.
In his time on center stage, Saddam launched two aggressive wars, murdered 300,000 Iraqis, used chemical weapons on his own citizens, and put in place an active nuclear-weapons program. He was thwarted only by his defeat in the first Gulf War. As of 2002, his regime had defied 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to enforce the Gulf War truce and stop Iraq from pursuing its ambition to possess weapons of mass destruction. In September 2002, the U.N. Security Council added a new resolution, which gave the regime until December 17 to comply with its terms or face consequences. When Iraq failed to comply, Bush made the only decision compatible with the preservation of international law and the security of the United States: He prepared an invasion to remove the regime and the weapons of mass destruction it was reasonably presumed to possess. The Iraqi dictator was provided the option of leaving the country and averting war. He rejected the offer and the U.S.-led coalition entered the country on March 19, 2003. (I recounted the story in Unholy Alliance.)
The use of force in Iraq had been authorized by both houses of Congress, including a majority of Democrats in the Senate. It was supported in eloquent speeches by John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Gore, and other Democratic leaders. But just three months into the war, Democrats turned against an action that they had authorized and began a five-year campaign to delegitimize it, casting America as its villain. It was a fundamental break with the post–World War II bipartisan foreign policy that had survived even Vietnam.
With the support and protection of Democratic legislators, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the major TV networks now undertook a relentless five-year propaganda campaign against the war, taking relatively minor incidents like the misbehavior of guards at the Abu Ghraib prison and blowing them up into international scandals, damaging their country’s prestige and weakening its morale. Left-leaning news media leaked classified national-security secrets, destroying three major national-security programs designed to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. (For more on this, see my work with Ben Johnson, Party of Defeat, and Douglas Feith’s War and Decision.) Every day, the New York Times and other left-leaning media provided front-page coverage of America’s body counts in Iraq and Afghanistan and helped to fuel a massive “anti-war” movement, which attacked America’s fundamental purposes along with its conduct of the war. The goal of these campaigns was to indict America and its leaders as war criminals who posed a threat to the world.
The principal justification offered by the Democrats for their campaign against the Iraq War was that “Bush lied” in order to persuade them to support an invasion that was unnecessary, illegal, and immoral. This claim was the only way Democrats could explain the otherwise inexplicable and unconscionable fact that, for domestic political reasons, they turned against a war they had supported, following the lead of an anti-war primary candidate, Howard Dean, who appeared to be on his way to winning their presidential nomination. It was only then that Kerry and Edwards, the eventual nominees, reversed themselves on the war; they were followed by the entire party, which saw a partisan advantage in attacking Bush over an increasingly difficult situation on the battlefield.
The claim that Bush lied was false. Bush could not have lied to Kerry or the congressional Democrats about WMDs in Iraq, because Kerry and other Democrats sat on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees and had access to the same intelligence data that Bush relied on to make his case for the war. When the Democrats authorized and supported the war, they knew everything that Bush knew. The claim that he lied to get their support was itself the biggest lie of the war. Its only purpose was to hide the Democrats’ own perfidy in abandoning the nation’s mission for partisan gain, and to discredit the president and turn the country against him, at whatever cost, in the hope of winning the 2004 election.
Republicans didn’t lose control of the national-security narrative simply because Democrats betrayed a war they had authorized, however. Republicans had the option of standing fast, as they had done since the attack on Pearl Harbor. They lost control of the narrative because they never held the Democrats accountable for their betrayal. They never suggested that the Democrats’ attacks on the war were deceitful and unpatriotic, aiding our enemies and risking the lives of our troops in the field. The Bush White House failed to defend itself from the attacks, and the Republicans as a whole failed to expose the Democrats’ lie and to describe their reckless accusations as the disloyal propaganda it clearly was. “Betrayal” and “sabotage” – the appropriate terms for Democratic attacks on the motives of the war – were never employed. Republicans did not accuse Democrats of conducting a campaign to demoralize America’s troops in the field, even when Kerry during a presidential debate called it “the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” (How did that sound to a 19-year-old Marine facing down Islamic terrorists in Fallujah?)
The Republican Failure and the American Future
The Republicans’ failure to defend their president and the war turned a good war into a bad one. It turned a disloyal opposition into a patriotic movement. It crippled America’s ability to protect other people’s freedom and defend its own. If the war against a dictator like Saddam Hussein was illegitimate and immoral, then American resistance to any outlaw states could be portrayed – and opposed – as reckless and unjustifiable aggression.
In failing to fight the political war over Iraq, Republicans lost their legitimacy as the party that had always taken the hard, sometimes unpopular steps to protect national security, as they did in the mid 1980s when they held the line against Soviet efforts to support Sandinista subversion and subject El Salvador to a bloody Marxist guerilla war. Losing – and to some degree failing to fight – the war over the war in Iraq is why Republicans are mute today in matters of foreign policy and why they have not challenged Barack Obama’s dangerous course of appeasement and drift, particularly in the Middle East.
The Joint Chiefs had suggested that a military presence of 20,000 troops in Iraq was necessary to keep it free of Iran’s control, but the demand for such a presence became problematic when the Republicans allowed the Democrats’ narrative of “Bush lied, people died” to succeed. When 2008 presidential candidate John McCain suggested that maintaining troops in a postwar Iraq was a prudent measure, candidate Obama attacked him as a warmonger. “You know,” Obama said, “John McCain wants to continue a war in Iraq perhaps as long as 100 years.” This refrain became a constant theme of the winning Obama campaign – Republicans are warmongers, and dangerous.
That is why three years later, when Obama withdrew from Iraq, no Republican dared accuse him of betraying the Americans who gave their lives to make Iraq independent, even though Iraq as a consequence fell under the sway of Iran and was providing air space for Iranian weapons headed for Syria..
How far America has fallen since Madeleine Albright called us the indispensable nation that stands taller and sees farther becomes ever more apparent with each new international crisis. We are not only losing the war with enemies whose stated goal is our destruction, we are led by a political party that constantly finds excuses not to take these enemies seriously, and never has to account for its disgraceful conduct because its potential opposition is mute. The only way to reverse this trend is to mount a campaign to put Obama’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood at the forefront of the political debate, and to educate Americans about the real dangers we face. Americans need to become aware of the Islamic-supremacist threat, of the malignant designs of the Muslim Brotherhood, and of the disasters that may lie ahead because of the Obama administration’s policies of appeasing and enabling our enemies’ evil ambitions.