The recent tragic deaths in Libya of an American ambassador and three of his fellow countrymen are troubling on a number of levels.
There is, to be certain, the need to both understand what occurred and take measure to prevent future attacks against our embassies and staff. Occurring, though, against the backdrop of a presidential election, heated rhetoric from both campaigns has left the American public with further stages of anxiety, confusion and doubt. Beset with enormous concerns over the course of our nation’s economic future, the recent events in Libya have once again drawn the nation’s focus as well upon our nation’s policies in combating ongoing threats of global Islamic terrorism.
For more than a decade, that battle has included the commitment of ground forces in Afghanistan, as well as numerous drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It has been highlighted by the successful raid that culminated in the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Over the course of the last year, the Arab world has seen political uprisings and social unrest throughout the Middle East that has not only witnessed the overthrow of long-standing regimes in countries like Egypt and Libya but has ushered in a new period of great instability. In Syria, where a dictator clings to power, violence has approached the state of near civil war. With Iran, we find ourselves and allies like Israel watching with ever-increasing concern over a nation that continues to take strides toward a determinant path in the development and possession of a nuclear weapon technology.
Faced with these troubling foreign policy issues, we must see the engagement of serious discussion on the part of our national leaders, and those who would seek such leadership over what is the proper role of the United States in intervening, even at the stake of national interests, in the political, military and cultural affairs of the Middle East. Reasoned and prudent judgment must replace and quell the heated rhetoric as this discussion must go forth before and after the election.
As such discussion(s) are carried out they occur against a backdrop of one administration’s launch into armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and the efforts of its successor as it took office in January 2009. After a long, costly and deadly involvement launched by President Bush in 2003, American forces and military involvement in Iraq was ended under the Obama administration. In place, Iraq has emerged as a country with a fragile democratically elected government, beset with the struggles of continued sectarian violence and witnessed to a growing and resurgent influence of al-Qaida-type forms of terrorism.
In Afghanistan, after more than a decade of involvement, which has seen commitments of more than 100,000 American forces at its height and billions of war and economic development expenditures, we are still witnessing an unbowed and resilient enemy in the Taliban.
It is an enemy that continues to threaten to topple a corrupt, weak and ineffectual government whose military and security forces have neither gained full trust and confidence from the American military that has trained it and remains challenged to gain the faith of a tribal-oriented people whom they are one day charged to defend on their own.
Where, then, should American policy stand vis-a-vis the Middle East and against the face of continued global terrorism? We cannot afford to display weakness in the face of continued threats of terrorism. Nor, I would submit, can we afford to return to the tenets of neo-conservatism, under which Americans launched a pre-emptive war in Iraq and have seen a protracted conflict involving a questionable path of nation-building, first in Iraq and in greater terms in Afghanistan.
As recent events in Libya continue to demonstrate we must remain vigilant in defense of our interests against the throes of continued threats of terrorism. Yet, as seen in both human terms and dollars spent, we are a nation that has grown ever more weary of continued conflict and wary and skeptical of those who in belligerent terms speak of dealing with Middle East troubles that could place us on a path of further war.
In sum, as we contemplate the coming election, we must call upon current and would-be leaders to engage each other in reasoned discussion of America’s future stance vis-a-vis the Middle East. This is necessary for our future, the plight of Middle East countries and perhaps the world as a whole. In these challenging and difficult times no less is demanded.