There seems to be some truth to the second term malady presidents suffer from. President Obama's first term foreign policy victories were salient and he appeared to have a clear goal. Aside from the Green Revolution, President Obama - with the help of his circle of trusted and accomplished advisers - had a level foreign policy head.
While Obama won the fight in his first term, terrorism seems to be making a second half comeback. President Obama has been plagued by crisis after crisis and his handling of them has been subject to the harshest criticism by opponents and party sympathizers. Al-Qaeda is resurgent in Iraq, Hamid Karzai, a once "trusted" ally, has become a thorn in the side of the administration, and Syria is becoming a more enigmatic quagmire as the days pass.
AQI, or al-Qaeda in Iraq has virtually risen from the ashes after Operation Iraqi Freedom and become a major power player in the region again. In fact, TIME Magazine reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is one of the most dangerous individuals in the world. He is the leader of AQI and orchestrated the Abu Ghraib prison break, which freed hundreds of imprisoned terrorists United States forces helped to jail. Jessica Lewis, Research Director for the Institute of War who also testified on Capitol Hill last week, authored a report, which outlines threats AQI poses. Specifically, their advanced coordination of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) across the region. She stated that, "VBIEDs require an extensive planning and
logistical structure, and the VBIED waves witnessed in 2012-2013 showcase the
development of a force-level planning effort within AQI’s military organization
to orchestrate simultaneous attacks involving many cells." Through the "Breaking the Walls" campaign, which ended in June of 2013, Lewis stated AQI orchestrated the prison break at Abu Ghraib and, "expressed operational objectives to retake
territory that it had formerly controlled and to establish governance in parts
of Iraq and Syria."
Baghdadi has high aspirations for the organization. He renamed AQI, ISIS or Islamic state of Iraq and al Shams, or greater Syria. In Lewis's testimony this week, she stated that AQI's goals are governance. In TIME's report, they alarmingly outline that Baghdadi and ISIS have actually gained control of territories in Syria and are governing. In fact, they have even begun taxing citizens. Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy who also testified on Capitol Hill last week, mentioned in his testimony that Iraqi politics is really the problem and solution for combating AQI because the Iraqi government and their Prime Minister Maliki have alienated a large Sunni population, which has led to sectarian violence and a resurgent al-Qaeda. For Pollack, Iraq must work to govern for all of Iraq and not just its Shia majority.
Many believe President Obama is directly responsible for the current state of Iraq. Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), an Iraq War veteran, stated in last week's Subcommittee Hearing that the Obama Administration retreated from Iraq undermining the valiant and brave efforts of the Bush Administration's surge, leading to a weakened state of security in the region and threatening our national security. Afghanistan may suffer the same dooming fate. In a Senate hearing last week concerning the transition in Afghanistan, Ambassador James Dobbins stated that officials from Iraq met with Karzai and told him not to make the same mistake they did in turning Americans away because they need the U.S. now.
Terrorism activity has gone down in Afghanistan but this accomplishment could be in jeopardy if a bipartisan security agreement (BSA) is not agreed upon. President Obama has made several efforts to make this deal final including sending National Security Adviser Susan Rice to Afghanistan to meet with Karzai. While many believe it is in our best interest to stay in the region, Afghanistan must take responsibility in accordance with Pollack's views.
In Syria, many are still questioning Obama's intent. His off-the-cuff Syrian policy has upset Republicans and Democrats. The latest concern in Syria was the decision by the administration to suspend non-lethal aid because supplies were taken by Islamist extremists. At a time when peace talks are drawing near and Obama's foreign policy is facing relentless scrutiny, this news further diminishes the credibility of the United States' efforts and commitment in the Syrian civil war and the region. Some are now arguing for military enforcement of aid, which would mean sending in troops - an unpopular resolution given the tainted sentiment the War in Iraq still has.
In Yemen, drone strikes have led to sympathy for members of al-Qaeda and have also further damaged the reputation of the U.S. The strikes are becoming more and more unpopular leading to countless deaths of innocent civilians. Despite the Yemeni government once claiming the strikes to be a "necessary evil" to combat al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemeni citizens are beginning to take arms against the U.S. in outrage and retaliation. Libya is not much better after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi. The United States has decided to train Libyan militants in the hopes they will be able to fight off terrorist cells in the country. This after rising accounts of violence related to al-Qaeda linked groups and the deaths of U.S. officials.
President Obama has had his hands full in the first quarter of his second term. Drones have not seemed to work the way they used to and Special Forces have only been utilized in rare occasions. What the administration needs to do is focus on aid, not necessarily military action. As seen in Africa this week, the US agreed to assist in the efforts to stabilize the Central African Republic. The real trouble for President Obama is how to maintain order and credibility without sending troops. If the problems persist, he may have no choice but violate a key principle he campaigned on in 2008.