Yet, in an Administration beset by systemic “intelligence failures,” with the President admitting time and again about reading of world events from news coverage, the virtually uncontested rise of ISIS is not really surprising. Nor is Obama’s delayed, haphazard response to the worsening conditions in the Middle East. Only now, after months of brutal killings of Christians, other ethnic minorities, and Iraqi military personnel at the hands of these Muslim fanatics, has Obama finally authorized limited airstrikes against ISIS targets; limited to the extent that even the Pentagon admits they will likely have little effect on the group’s overall strength now that it has become entrenched in the territories under its control.
Today’s frightening reality in Iraq is a failure shared by both major political parties here at home; and more specifically, both Republican and Democratic leaders who enabled back-to-back Administrations to engage in a dangerous game of nation-building that left America’s interests at home and abroad even more vulnerable than before. Despite spending hundreds of billions -- if not trillions – of U.S. taxpayer dollars in Iraq removing Saddam Hussein and “rebuilding” the country’s infrastructure, we are left now with a humongous, hollow embassy complex (but one we still must defend), in a capital city under siege because of our withdrawal of virtually any way to protect our interests in the country plagued by long-simmering tribal and religious warfare.
Worse still -- as the situation with ISIS proves -- America is forced to defend these interests with a foreign intelligence capability that apparently remains unable to penetrate this part of the world. This deficiency exists despite a massive and expensive push to rebuild a foreign intelligence system that had failed to anticipate the fall of the Soviet Union a generation ago, was caught flat-footed more than a decade ago on 9/11, and dropped the ball again two years ago in Benghazi.
Because this intelligence network is so badly broken, there has developed a default position of blindly and repeatedly assuming “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This is why the Obama Administration’s answer to nearly every Middle Eastern crisis (which have come with increased frequency since Obama took office) is to arm the rebel group du jour – usually one that appears or claims to support American interests today, but works against us the next. Libya, Egypt, and Syria, come quickly to mind. At the same time, we have appeared strangely hesitant to openly and strongly support the one faction in that part of the world that consistently has been a friend to the U.S. – the Kurds.
Even Hillary Clinton has sloughed off her mantel as Obama’s former Secretary of State and jumped on the bandwagon -- criticizing Obama’s recent foreign policy decisions and suggesting Obama erred in refusing to “build up a credible fighting force” within Syrian factions opposed to Bashir Assad’s regime. Of course, this would be the same factions the CIA covertly trained last year, and which now apparently have allied with ISIS in Iraq -- supplying them with weapons, some of which almost certainly came from the United States.
Like the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day” – forced to relive that day over and over again – we seem to be caught in a similar time-loop of our own making. Unfortunately, unlike the movie, this Administration learns nothing to help us get off the merry-go-round with each new episode of violence in the Middle East. Even more tragically, this is real life, with real-world consequences for our inability or unwillingness to learn from past mistakes, to understand who our real friends are, and to comprehend the very real limitations on our ability to change societies in that part of the world that has resisted such efforts for millennia.