US credibility abroad weakened by Obama's confused inaction

Syria is plagued by violent extremism, Israel feels that we have turned our back on them, Jordan is imploring that we assist them, Iraq is on the brink of relapsing into despair, Egypt’s people are hopeful for American leadership, and Iran mocks us and ignores its commitments.

The United States’ approach to the Middle East under President Obama has been filled with a chorus of blunders and failures, which have contributed to the chaos in the region.  This all comes from a president who campaigned on the promise that he would restore the credibility to the United States abroad.

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Syria serves as one of the most prominent examples of his foreign policy shortcomings.  Since an uprising-turned-civil war broke out nearly three years ago, more than 140,000 people have been killed, including thousands of women and children, while 2.5 million refugees have fled the county.  The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has relentlessly and ruthlessly committed war crimes against its own people in its attempt to quell the rebellion, going as far as randomly killing innocent civilians and depriving children of food and other basic essentials as part of its military campaign.

The conflict climaxed when al-Assad unleashed chemical weapons against his own people, killing at least 1,429 Syrians, including 426 children by the United States’ own calculations.  Nearly a year prior, Obama had declared that “we have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.  That would change my calculus.”  And yet, al-Assad’s actions went unpunished.  The president confusingly walked back his statements saying, “I didn’t set a red line.  The world set a red line.”  Obama failed to work effectively with Congress or take any type of timely executive action that would have made a meaningful difference.

Obama’s confused inaction has led directly to a vacuum of power in the Middle East.  Foreign leaders have come to realize that the president’s words, promises, and threats often have no meaning or consequences.  For America, that means that our leadership is constantly challenged.  Just ask Vladimir Putin whether the President’s unwillingness to act has had any bearing on his decision to invade the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

This administration’s actions – or lack thereof – have not just emboldened our adversaries, but also left our allies speechless.  Just recently, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, an invaluable ally and close friend of the United States, reiterated his concern for the war crimes taking place in Syria and the devastating fallout in neighboring countries.  Abdullah noted that 600,000 Syrian refugees have fled the civil war to Jordan, and it is beginning to cripple his country’s economy, meanwhile the United States aimlessly searches for a solution with no end in sight.

And Jordan is not our only ally concerned with America’s foreign policy missteps.  On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama made comments to Bloomberg News about the Middle East peace process that led reporters to question both his timing and motives.  This resulted in further discussion about the very rocky relationship between the two leaders and countries.

At the heart of this unease between Israel and the United States is our policy on Iran’s nuclear program.  On numerous occasions, Netanyahu has promised that his government would not stand idly by while Iran – whose Ayatollah has stated its intention to “annihilate Israel” – developed a weapon of mass destruction.  Yet, Obama made a sixth month deal with Iran, allowing the country to continue with their nuclear enrichment much to the chagrin of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.  It has yet to be fully seen whether this will be the beginning of a long-awaited solution or just allow Iran to continue its nuclear program in perpetuity.  Many esteemed scholars believe the agreement is subverting the best interests of our strongest ally in the Middle East, while allowing Iran to benefit from eased sanctions.

In sum, Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East could be best described as feckless, relegating the United States to isolationism, while matters of great importance unfold upsetting our allies at every turn.  President Obama and his national security team must understand that peace is only achieved through strength, and that is only possible when words matter and actions have consequences.

Ortiz is a Republican strategist, principal at Crane & Crane Consulting, and an adviser on public policy and regulations for a D.C.-based global law firm.