If Only

The Republicans are always bemoaning Obama’s foreign policy. He’s weak, he’s feckless; Obama’s policies are making America lose its gravitas in the world. Republicans blame the entire chaos in the Middle East and beyond on Obama. Last Sunday, Chris Christie said that Obama is hurting America so much with his foreign policy that he should be removed from office.

Republicans say that Obama should have never backed down from that red line in Syria. If only he did not back down then Assad would already be gone. This is just a theory of course, even though they say it as if it were fact. There is no proof that this is true and in fact, since it is a hypothetical, it cannot be proved. Assad is stubbornly large and in charge, willing to let refugees from his entrenched and unpopular regime flood first his neighbors in the Middle East and now Europe. He has the backing of Putin and everyone is trying to avoid an all-out war with Putin, because he seems to want one so badly.

Republicans say, if only Obama had not pulled all our troops out of Iraq. They are trying to sell the idea that Obama, even more so than Bush, made the mess in the Middle East and the formation of ISIL is therefore also Obama’s fault. (They love this twisted reasoning that makes my brain feel like a pretzel.) Some people seem to be buying this but the rest of us have longer memories.

As we watched the same American troops serve duty after duty in Iraq (and Afghanistan), as we watched how IED’s were depriving generations of men and women of the limbs they were born with, as we got better and better at manufacturing futuristic prostheses and all-terrain wheel chairs, we came to believe that the human costs were too great and the rewards too small. People knew there were different sects in these ancient lands but they underestimated the bad feelings that had been pent up over the decades, along with the social hierarchies that defined the pecking order of the various sects. Our troops were stretched too thin and regrouping was a good strategy.

If we had stayed in Iraq we would have been reviled as imperialists, heretics, occupiers, all old labels we were trying to shake off. Once Bush unleashed all of this, the whole struggle became our business only in the sense that we need to contain it.

If only we had stayed in Afghanistan, the GOP opines, then we would not have allowed the Taliban to come back in. Forget that we only went in to get Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. Forget that, although the Taliban is anathema to people who love human rights and freedom, beating back the Taliban was actually a different fight than the one that originally sucked us into Afghanistan. And as much as we gained ground and beat back the Taliban, as much as we don’t want to see our hard-won victories undone and the risks that our soldiers took disappear into this rocky land as if they never accomplished anything good for the people of Afghanistan, we don’t want to be occupiers, and how long could we stay in Afghanistan among hostile people who had asked us to leave.

If only the Iran Nuclear Agreement was better, Republicans say. Obama gave away all America’s power. Being diplomatic with these people won’t fly critics say. If will only make us appear weak and if they think we are weak they will find ways to exploit that weakness. But there is so much hostility and competition among nations. Why are these times turning into such a flash point with everything in turmoil at the same time?

It sounds reassuring to build up our military, perhaps to reinstate the draft if we can’t find enough volunteers. It sounds like security to build up our navy and our air force, to stock pile weapons, to be the toughest nation on the globe. Perhaps we think we need to fight fear with fear – bring back the Cold War only bigger, colder. The more militaristic we get though, the more militaristic are ‘enemies’ get. If only Republicans understood de-escalation, diplomacy, defusing confrontation. If we presented a united front to try to do that deescalating hostilities thing we might find strength and perhaps even respect from that.

The Republicans may have their if-onlys – but I have my own too. I think mine make more sense on a tiny planet with 7 billion+ people that feels, right now, like it is on the verge of apocalypse.

By Nancy Brisson

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