Letter: Obama’s Islamic State strategy is a common sense approach to an uncommon challenge

To the Editor:

In foreign policy, the stakes are always high. For the Obama Administration’s Islamic State strategy, they couldn’t be higher.  And for the policy’s critics, his caution is another target for condemnation. But it’s fair to ask the question: What would any rational president do differently?

Muting the partisan noise surrounding the issue would reveal the common sense nature of the Administration’s policy choices.  Considering its myriad stakeholders — the American people, allies, and plagued peoples of Iraq — we should not be surprised by a policy that attempts to satisfy them all.

Indeed, the Islamic State issue is politically problematic. The American people are  rightly skeptical of escalating military ambitions. Our partners in the region, hindered by sectarian pressures, lean on the United States to forge a solution. And then there are the millions who despair under Islamic State rule.

So for President Obama, who has always sought a more nuanced foreign policy than his predecessor, his navigation of this political minefield has been wisely practical.

First, Obama’s rejection of hawkish calls to send combat units back to Iraq minimizes domestic political risk. As U.S. interests there seem increasingly undeserving to the American people, restraint by the President is prudent. He is making a sensible tradeoff, believing that Americans can be kept just as safe without sacrificing the lives of our armed forces.

Second, Obama believes that the surest path to a stable Iraq is one led by those peoples who call Iraq home. By providing such military support that the U.S. does best — precision bombing, intelligence, and training — the Administration can contain the Islamic State cancer while affording the Iraqi government time to regroup. It also answers international pressures to help rebuild a nation it had a part in turning upside down.

Critics decry the strategy as feckless, having fallen far short of the policy goal Obama declared — an Islamic State defeat. But the right  strategy  will take more than 18 months to solve a problem more than a decade in the making. And taking further steps militarily may revive the narrative that American foreign policy is arrogant and intrusive, kindling new fires of foreign resentment.

Obama’s opponents also disparage the strategy for its supposed ill effects on regional politics. But recent diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran, as well as growing military contributions from several Sunni Arab states signal an evolving political power structure in the Middle East at large.  Treading carefully to preclude further calamitous foreign policy decisions just makes sense.

President Obama recognizes the difference between American exceptionalism and American omnipotence. His policy choices make clear: the country will not be dragged back into the foreign policy purgatory that Iraq has been for so many years.

Thus, the practical presidential approach here is simple: caution is the watchword on any expansion of the use of force. To rehabilitate America’s armed forces, recharge its economic engine, and refocus its foreign policy priorities, any sensible president would do the same.
Daniel Laursen,
THS Class 2001 and Navy Lieutenant