In spite the Islamic State’s ritualistic beheadings of American citizens, President Barack Obama remains committed to addressing the threat posed by ISIS by internationalizing the response.
“If we are joined by the international community,” Obama said on Wednesday, “we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.”
“The question is going to be making sure we’ve got the right strategy but also making sure we’ve got the international will to do it,” he added. “And what we’ve got to do is make sure that we are organizing the Arab world, the Middle East, the Muslim world, along with the international community to isolate this cancer.”
This is a laudable goal, but only to the point that it does not justify passivity or inaction. Too many in the media are, however, consumed with celebrating the idea of multilateralism for its own sake as part of a philosophical rejection of an idea of the Bush-era. And it is only an idea.
26 days after the September 11 attacks, Operation Enduring Freedom commenced in Afghanistan. The campaign to oust the Taliban from power, rid the region of al-Qaeda, and build a sustainable post-war Afghan government eventually involved 58 nations, many of them non-NATO members. In Iraq, 45 nations joined the United States in the March, 2003 mission to oust Saddam Hussein from control in Baghdad. By April, Angola and Ukraine had committed to joining the mission, raising the total number of coalition countries including the United States to 48.
Traditional American allies like Canada, France, and Germany objected to the Iraq War and refused to participate in initial combat operations. The United Nations, too, declined to sanction the campaign to change the regime in Iraq. This gave birth to the prevalent myth that the United States engaged in a unilateral operation in that Mesopotamian nation.
This is powerful lore, and it is enjoying new life as commentators and politicians and seek to defend Obama’s strained efforts to justify an indirect response to what his White House has determined are “terrorist” attacks on the United States.
“As devastated as we ALL are by these tragic beheadings, we cannot allow this to turn into a ‘go it alone’ foreign policy in Iraq,” Huffington Post commentator and university professor Marc Lamont Hill wrote.
“What needs to be asserted is a kind of muscular multilateralism,” The Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon said on CNN on Wednesday. “That it’s not the U.S. going it alone, as with the Bush years with unilateralism.”
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said America’s post-9/11 approach to the international environment as characterized by George W. Bush’s “fire, ready, aim” strategy.
“If we know anything from history, a unilateral action as we did in Iraq will put us in a quagmire for years – a decade plus,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) declared on Sunday on MSNBC. His factually challenged assertion was not corrected.
There is no question that the months-long run-up to the Iraq War was plagued by diplomatic bungles, and that is an experience which none should be eager to repeat. It is, however, nothing less than revisionist history to suggest America acted unilaterally in Iraq.
Moreover, Barack Obama has approved of his own military actions against sovereign states in his time as commander-in-chief. Each time, he was backed by a coalition of nations far smaller than those which supported America in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Libya in 2011, 18 nations including NATO member states took part in air combat operations aimed at halting Tripoli’s execution of a campaign against anti-government insurgents. In Iraq, at the invitation of Baghdad, the U.S. Air Force joined British, French, and Australian forces in dropping humanitarian aid over the areas besieged by ISIS troops. But the execution of air strikes on ISIS targets surrounding strategic areas of Iraq like the cities of Baghdad, Erbil and the Mosul dam began as a unilateral American mission and remains one to this day.
Why is this so hard to admit? Why does the liberal shibboleth regarding America’s “go-it-alone” approach to the Iraq War take precedence over the truth? Why is the media so committed to this vacuous idea that they would allow the propagation of an abject lie? Bush may not have championed multilateralism in his rhetoric, but he did practice it. Obama, meanwhile, has taken the opposite approach.
Whatever the Iraq War’s faults, and there were many, it was not a unilateral mission by the United States. Those who continue to cling to this false claim are merely professing an article of faith; one belonging to an increasingly beleaguered church.