In the messy world of the Middle East, actions and in-actions have consequences. There are so many realities. Self determination can be disastrous but so can propping up two-bit dictators. Historically, the United States has done what is in our best national security interests. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The American people do not want protracted military involvement in the Middle East. We have made that abundantly clear. The problem is that most of time, military action…decisive military firepower is all terrorists, militants and malcontents understand. Enter Barack Obama.
Obama, by himself, cannot be blamed for the current crises in the Middle East. This tumultuous region has been a mess for thousands of years. Foreign policy decisions that go back decades have done little to help. Republicans and Democrats have all engaged in failed foreign policy decisions that lead us to where we are today. In other words, there are no easy solutions. Anything short of bombing the entire region into the dark ages and then sending in the United Nations to administer whatever is left will probably not affect any real change. Of course, that is not a desirable option and is in no way realistic which is why we continue in the quagmire we are in. The reality is…it will never…ever change.
Barack Obama has been urged to take a tougher approach towards Russia and Syria, as Republicans and Democrats returned from their summer vacations in confrontational mood. After a week in which the president was criticized for failing to develop military plans for tackling Islamic State militants inside Syria and taking a relatively cautious approach to Russian incursions in Ukraine, senior figures in Congress took turns to demand greater US intervention. Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the foreign relations committee and an administration loyalist, called for the US to arm the Ukrainian military with advanced weapons, that it might defend itself against Russia. “This is a watershed moment,” said Menendez, speaking from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where he is on the latest of a series of congressional fact-finding visits. “Thousands of Russian troops are here and are directly engaged in what is clearly an invasion. “We should be providing the Ukrainians with the types of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon [Russian president Vladimir] Putin for further aggression.”
The New Jersey senator dismissed fears that such a step would provoke further aggression from Moscow, and called on European allies to agree significantly tougher economic sanctions, targeting entire industrial sectors such as energy, defense and financial services. “Weakness is a greater provocation for Putin than strength,” said Menendez, in an interview with CNN. Asked if he thought the White House was considering such a move, Menendez said: “I think that may very well be on the table right now. These are changed circumstances.” A similar mood was on display over Syria, with Senate Democrats accusing Obama of failing to take the “extraordinarily dangerous” threat from Isis seriously enough.
On Thursday, asked about possible plans to combat Isis in Syria as well as northern Iraq, Obama told a White House press conference: “We don’t have a strategy yet.” On Saturday, secretary of state John Kerry used a New York Times op-ed column to call for “a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force” against Isis. Kerry also said he and defence secretary Chuck Hagel would use next week’s Nato summit in Wales to seek to marshal such international support. In northern Iraq on Saturday night, air strikes and aid drops brought the total of such US strikes since 8 August to 118. The drops and strikes were carried out “at the request of the Iraqi government”, according to a statement from US Central Command, with planes from Australia, France and Britain also dropping food, water and supplies.
Central Command said its forces dropped “109 bundles of much-needed humanitarian aid to the people of Amirli, including the Shia Turkomen minority ethnic group”, and “also conducted three airstrikes in coordination with the isolated Iraqi security forces responsible for protecting Amirli”. The statement added: “Fighter aircraft struck and destroyed three Isis Humvees, one Isis armed vehicle, one Isis checkpoint and one Isis tank near Amirli.” On Sunday, Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, told NBC: “I think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious. Maybe in this instance, too cautious.” Feinstein also questioned whether economic sanctions were enough to deter Russian intervention in Ukraine, calling for Kerry to lead direct talks with Putin. “I think this is deeply personal with him,” she said of Putin. “And I think he’s calling the shots himself. And he’s enjoying intensely high favorability in his country. People say: ‘Well, just wait till the sanctions bite and the economy slips.’ I don’t think so.”
Feinstein added: “The Russians are very brave and very long-suffering. And they will tough out any economic difficulty.” The Sunday talk shows did give some glimpses of support for Obama’s summer foreign policy decisions, as several influential Democratic figures suggested the White House would soon toughen its stance toward Isis and Russia. “I do know that the military, I know that the State Department, I know that others have been putting plans together,” said Feinstein. “And so hopefully, those plans will coalesce into a strategy.” On CNN, Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, predicted imminent and far-reaching US intervention in Syria. “I think we will see action within the next week or so,” he said. “If we are going to go in, we are not just going to drop some bombs, we are going to go in on a long-term basis.”
Several Republicans were even more gung-ho about the need to confront Isis. Speaking at an Americans for Prosperity conference in Dallas that was organised by influential party funders the Koch brothers, presidential hopeful and Texas senator Ted Cruz said: “We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age”. On CBS on Sunday the Arizona senator John McCain, a persistent critic of Obama’s foreign policy, said of the situation in Ukraine: “For God’s sake, can’t we help these people defend themselves?” The Dawn of Libya militia group now guards the US embassy in Tripoli and its residential compound, a commander said on Sunday, as onlookers toured the abandoned homes of diplomats who fled the country more than a month ago.
Holes left by small-arms and rocket fire dot the residential compound, reminders of weeks of violence between rival militias over control of Tripoli that sparked the evacuation. The breach of a deserted US diplomatic post – including videos posted on YouTube of men swimming in the compound’s algae-filled pools – is likely to reinvigorate debate in the US over its role in Libya, more than three years after it supported rebels who toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Almost two years ago the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi. A commander for the Dawn of Libya group, Moussa Abu-Zaqia, told Associated Press his forces had been guarding the residential compound since last week, a day after it seized control of the capital and its international airport following weeks of fighting with a rival militia. Abu-Zaqia said the rival militia from Zintan had been in the compound before his troops took it over.
On Sunday a senior US State Department official said in a statement: “We’ve seen the reports and videos and are seeking additional details. At this point, we believe the embassy compound itself remains secure but we continue to monitor the situation on the ground, which remains very fluid.” The US has moved embassy staff from Tripoli to Malta because of the fighting. Some windows at the compound had been broken, but it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. Treadmills, weight benches and protein bars remained in the compound’s abandoned gym. Forks, knives and napkins set for a banquet sat on one table, while a cantina still had cornflakes, vinegar, salt and pepper sitting out. Some papers lay strewn on the floor, but it did not appear that the villas in the compound had been ransacked.
Hassan Ali, a Dawn of Libya commander, said his fighters saw “small fires and a little damage” before they chased the rival Zintan militia out of the residential compound. “We entered and put some of our fighters to secure this place and we preserved this place as much as we could,” he said. Abu-Zaqia said his militia had asked cleaners to come to spruce up the grounds. He said the embassy staff “are most welcome in God’s blessing, and any area that is controlled by Dawn of Libya is totally secure and there are no troubles at all”. Another Dawn of Libya commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorised to speak by his leaders, told AP the embassy itself, about one kilometre away, was also under guard by his militiamen. “We’ve secured the location and the assets of the embassy,” he said. “We’ve informed our command … immediately after entering the place following the exit of the rival militia. The place is secure and under protection.”
The commander did not elaborate and the AP journalist could not reach the embassy. The Dawn of Libya militia is not associated with the extremist militia Ansar al-Shariah, which Washington blames for the deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate on 11 September 2012 that killed Stevens and the three other Americans. A video posted online on Sunday showed unarmed men playing in a pool at the compound and jumping into it from a second-storey balcony. In a message on Twitter, the US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, said the video appeared to have been shot at the embassy’s residential annex, but she could not “say definitively” since she wasn’t there. “To my knowledge & per recent photos the US Embassy Tripoli chancery & compound is now being safeguarded and has not been ransacked,” she wrote on Twitter. She did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate.
Libya’s government has largely relied on militias for law enforcement since the fall of Gaddafi, as its military and police forces remain weak. In the past few weeks, the security vacuum in Tripoli deepened as militia violence worsened and the diplomatic security provided by Libya’s interior ministry in the area apparently fled. It remains unclear who the US left in control of guarding its facilities after its personnel evacuated under military escort on July 26. The State Department has said embassy operations would be suspended until the security situation in Libya improved.