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Bush's recklessness, Obama's fecklessness leave U.S. looking weak as Iraq crumbles [Commentary]

Less than three years after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the black flag of an al-Qaida inspired terrorist group flies above several Iraqi cities. The Iraqi army, despite years of training by the United States, has disintegrated and abandoned bases and weaponry to these terrorists (and in some cases even supports them). Iran, enemy of the United States for more than three decades and a constant threat to international security, is increasingly supplanting American influence in Iraq with its own and exerts significant influence in Syria as well.

It is a catastrophic, tragic implosion of American foreign policy. The great sacrifices of the American people and military over the last decade have been squandered by the isolationist foreign policy of an Obama administration determined to end the Bush administration's wars at any cost.

The war in Iraq may have been one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in American history, but the Obama administration's Middle East policy is a close contender for that title as well. President Barack Obama's premature pullout of forces from Iraq robbed the U.S. of any real influence on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to address the concerns of many in the Sunni population who now support the current insurrection. The president failed to adequately support the Iraqi government in expelling the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from Fallujah (which ISIS has occupied for several months). He did not support moderate rebels in Syria enough to bring the Syrian Civil War to an end before ISIS grew in power and furthermore did not help those moderate Syrian rebels who are now fighting ISIS in Syria. All of these astonishing foreign policy blunders have directly resulted in ISIS terrorists now marching on Baghdad.

America has suffered immensely under nearly 15 years of what are two of the worst foreign policy administrations in our history. Mr. Bush was reckless, but Mr. Obama is feckless. Which is worse will be for history to judge, but both will attract the scorn they deserve for the decisions they made and the price Americans paid for them.

One thing is certain, however; isolationism is dead. While some will point to Iraq as a reason why we shouldn't be involved in the Middle East at all, this is a shortsighted simplification of foreign policy that is now clearly not an option for the United States. It is precisely that isolationist thinking that allowed the civil war in Syria to drag on and metastasize, spilling over the border into an Iraq devoid of U.S. forces and influence (due to an isolationist U.S. withdrawal policy), and pushing Iraq further under the influence of Iran.

The result of these isolationist tendencies, exemplified by President Obama's foreign policy, has been complete chaos in a region sitting on 46 percent of the world's oil reserves and a prime source of international terrorists who, rather than being defeated, are clearly on the rise.

This is causing a degradation of America's position in the world, a loss of respect by our allies, the emboldening of our enemies, and a deterioration in international norms of conduct that has resulted in a Syria torturing and killing civilians for years and a Russia that has redrawn the borders of Ukraine.

Rarely in our history has America looked weaker, more confused, and more incompetent on the world stage. Iraq, Syria and Ukraine are already paying a heavy price for the Obama administration's ineptitude, but the price will be shared by us as well, possibly for decades.

And let us not forget those who have already paid the ultimate price for Iraq, the 4,486 American service members killed during the Iraq War and the more than 30,000 injured.

One can only imagine what those wounded veterans must be thinking as they watch the crisis in Iraq unfold on television. The Obama administration must act quickly to assist the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS. We owe it to the Iraqi people, but more than that we owe it to the American servicemen and women who sacrificed so much for their country already.

Matthew VanDyke a Maryland native, fought alongside the Libyan rebels in 2011. An award-winning documentary film about his life, "Point and Shoot," will be released in theaters later this year. His film about the Syrian Civil War, "Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution," has won over 50 awards. His email is matthew@matthewvandyke.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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