Turmoil in the Middle East has exposed the vulnerabilities of President Barack Obama’s listless foreign policy. As Iran closes in on its nuclear prize and props up Assad’s bloody regime in Syria, the United States has the opportunity to deal a crippling blow to its oldest, most dangerous enemy in the region. U.S. military strikes could topple Tehran’s close allies in Damascus and destroy the mullahs’ nuclear infrastructure, potentially ushering in more democratic regimes that would be at peace with their neighbors.
But instead of seizing the initiative, the White House has wrapped itself in a web of international law and institutions that have brought only paralysis and indecision. From the top down, administration officials have suggested that they need the blessing of the U.N. before they can use force to advance American interests in the Middle East. “For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake,” Obama recently said about Syria. “What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community, had a U.N. Security Council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation.”
Libya taught the administration the wrong lessons. What the White House sees as a successful strategy of acting as part of a United Nations coalition was in fact a near-disaster. Waiting on the U.N. Security Council for approval of airstrikes allowed Muammar Qaddafi’s regime to come within a day or two of wiping out the Libyan resistance. The delay reduced our ability to exert influence on the new regime that has emerged since. The Obama administration hopes to reassure those who distrust American unilateralism by submerging our national interests into those of an undefined world community. The result is that America still carries the main burden of maintaining international peace and stability, but with a loss of speed, flexibility, and decisiveness.