It is telling that Matthew Van Dyke in his recent commentary fails to present a single policy recommendation while criticizing the Middle East foreign policies of the last two U.S. administrations ("Bush's recklessness, Obama's fecklessness make U.S. look weak as Iraq crumbles," June 17). Like many commentators, Mr. Van Dyke relies on a false dichotomy between isolationism and military intervention.
Although Mr. Van Dyke is correct that the 2003 invasion of Iraq represents what may be the greatest foreign policy mistake in U.S. history, his argument — that the present administration's feckless "isolationist tendencies, exemplified by President Barack Obama's foreign policy" has led to "complete chaos in the Middle East" — fails to acknowledge core realities which have been illuminated by George W. Bush's misadventures.
The hard truth is that two of the longest wars in American history have made two things very clear. First, the American military is not well suited to occupation. And second, American public opinion strongly opposes long term foreign military interventions of the sort that Iraq and Afghanistan have become.
With this in mind, President Obama has wisely sought to shift U.S. foreign policy objectives toward long term goals which do not involve large scale open-ended American military deployments in the Middle East. This is what he was elected to do, and it is a policy that has the support of the American public as well as of those American soldiers who fought so hard in the region over the past decade.
It should be stressed that as the Obama administration has wound down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his State Department has greatly expanded its working relationship with China, strengthened American influence throughout Asia and the Pacific, increased the U.S. military presence in Europe and renewed negotiations with Iran. These policies, rooted in diplomatic and economic ties, are far from isolationist. They represent a complex integrated approach to international diplomacy.
If Iraq has taught us anything, it is that the challenges facing the Middle East cannot be solved simply by sending in American troops. Today, the Iraq conflict has merged with the conflict in Syria. A unilateral American intervention would be unwelcome in the region and is likely only to worsen the situation. Arming "moderate rebels" would be seen by other parties as a direct American escalation and result in a ramping up the existing war by proxy.
Because the Middle East War is now an international conflict, only an international diplomatic agreement will bring about a resolution. By focusing American leadership on developing mutually beneficial economic and political relations, the Obama administration has put the U.S. back on track to restoring America's international standing. Only with international trust restored in this way, will the United States again be globally respected as an honest broker of international peace and security.
Ben Homer, New York, N.Y.
The writer, a graduate student in international affairs at the New School, is producing a documentary film focused on the Syrian refugee issue.
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