President Obama arrived in the White House intent on ending U.S. involvement abroad. He would pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He would close the prison in Guantánamo and ignore Vladimir Putin’s imperial spasm in Russia and the outbursts from Hugo Chávez and his accomplices in Venezuela.
His motto was, “Mind your own business.”
Most likely, George W. Bush’s claim that he could sow democracy in the Middle East seemed to Obama ingenuous. With what democrats?
Obama was part of that large sector of U.S. society that does not share the idea that the United States is an exceptional country but is just another nation, with interests, virtues and defects, as he told the Latin American leaders at a meeting in Trinidad-Tobago, when he notified them that he was leaving them to God’s mercy.
A few days ago, however, Obama announced that he was again sending 300 military advisers to Iraq in response to a surge by Sunni jihadists against Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite government. Regrettably, Washington cannot wash its hands and ignore what’s happening there, he implied.
Obama is not going to send infantry troops but experts in the search of intelligence, to utilize aviation and drones against the ultra-radicals.
U.S. presidents have no way or place to hide. Sometimes they have to act like the town sheriff and sometimes like the preacher. The country’s exceptionality is not awarded by divine design but by something a lot less mysterious: its size, economic, military, scientific and demographic weight, and its sense of responsibility.
It’s simple. If, during World War II, the United States had really been neutral, there would have been no Pearl Harbor (the Japanese attacked because of the U.S. oil boycott) and Adolf Hitler and his allies would have controlled much of the planet, at least for a while.
If, after that conflict, Harry Truman had not adopted a strategy of containment, the Soviet Union would have won the Cold War, it would not have disintegrated and the whole world, the United States included, would have paid a high price for American isolationism. The Marxist-Leninist nightmare would have remained in effect.
Also, American inhibition sometimes generates unexpected and terrible consequences. On July 25, 1990, Saddam Hussein summoned to his palace U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie to ask her a key question: What would the United States do if Iraq invaded Kuwait? The ambassador, who knew that Iraq had moved 100,000 soldiers to the border with Kuwait, answered that, according to instructions given to her, that was a matter between two Arab nations bordering each other that did not involve her country. Hussein thought that the U.S. government was authorizing the invasion and a week later gave the order to attack.
Crass mistake. On Jan. 16, 1991, the United States, leading a coalition of 34 countries spurred on by Saudi Arabia, which felt it was in danger, launched Gulf War One, rescued Kuwait and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s military apparatus. Except that that war was the prologue to a second one, unleashed in March 2003, designed to find weapons of mass destruction (which never surfaced) and overthrow a tyrant who was not, on the other hand, an accomplice to the al-Qaida terrorists.
Where will this renewed though limited presence of U.S. soldiers in Baghdad end up? Obama will use them to launch commando operations or direct drones against the enemy because has become fond of that type of action. But everything could slip out of his hands.
Around this time, 100 years ago, the awful World War I began and nobody can explain with total certainty why the assassination of an obscure Austrian prince in Sarajevo provoked one of the greatest slaughters in history.
After the conflict ended, came the time for the preachers. The League of Nations was created, and peace was restored, but two decades later World War II began. That’s when the sheriffs showed up to impose order.
It’s a never-ending story.