Written by Rachel Ehrenfeld
American Center for Democracy
President Obama’s remarks on his foreign policy achievements in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2014, were misleading. A good example is his boasting, “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.”
Why then, did U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asked his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shogun, to “do what he could to influence the Syrian government to comply,” just a day after the president assured us that his policy is working?
On the following day, U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Robert Mikulak warned that “the effort to remove chemical agent and key precursor chemicals from Syria has seriously languished and stalled”. And in what amounts to admission of failed U.S. policy, on February 1, in Munich, “Secretary Kerry pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov to push the regime for more progress on moving the remaining chemical weapons within Syria to the port in Latakia.”
The information about Assad’s delay in surrendering his chemical weapons was available before Obama addressed the nation. Was he ill-informed? If not, did he try to mislead Americans into believing that the world is safe from Syria’s chemical and biological weapons?
Unlike his boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said that Assad “may now have the ability to produce biological weapons on a limited scale.” Moreover, Clapper warned “that some elements of Syria’s biological warfare program might have advanced beyond the research and development stage and might be capable of limited agent production, based on the duration of its longstanding program.”
On Syria’s Islamist terrorism, Obama said that “While we’ve put al-Qaida’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks.”
Clapper, however, did not echo the president or repeat the line about al-Qaeda’s core leaders, but described the training of foreign rebel fighters by al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda groups in Syria “to go back to their countries” and commit terrorist acts. He further described this as “one of the newest threats emerging in the past year to U.S. security.” Clapper elaborated that “core al-Qaeda” chief Ayman al-Zawahri has empowered various nodes of his organization to choose their own terrorist targets, mostly local, although he encourages them to focus on the United States when they can.
Clapper’s estimates of the percentage of Syrian rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda was low compared to most reports, as was his estimate of the number of foreign jihadis among the rebels, although even those numbers he clearly regarded as a significant threat to the U.S. He, unlike the president, also noted that sub-Saharan Africa has become a hothouse for “extremists” and that Yemen’s AQAP was capable now of carrying out attacks against the U.S.
So much for having al-Qaeda on the run, President Obama.
However, the President had quite a lot to say about Iran, but most of it had to do with repeating the importance of the diplomatic approach. Again, the president claimed that his diplomacy works because it is backed by force. He even went so far as to say that “As commander in chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office…We must fight the battles — (applause) — that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength.” He then gave credence to jihadis’ claims that their violence is merely a response to U.S. aggression, saying that deployment of American force “may ultimately feed extremism.” Not surprisingly, Obama stresses the withdrawal of projected American power as key to his foreign policy approach.
Obama also claimed that the U.S. had already reversed the trend toward an Iranian bomb. Yet, the only thing that has been reversed is the U.S. policy towards Iran. Iranian leaders have repeatedly contradicted his claim, before and after his State of Union address.
Before meeting Kerry in Munich, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Reuters, “Iran was not prepared to give up research on centrifuges used to purify uranium as part of a final nuclear deal.” This despite the agreement Iran signed with the P5+1 on January 20 in Geneva, that it would “limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities, including a voluntary suspension of its 20-percent uranium enrichment program.”
Nonetheless, since Obama ignores the facts on the ground, Iran was rewarded on February 1, with the first installment of six of its unfrozen funds, $500 million “in accordance with the agreement.”
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is Founder and CEO of the New York-based American Center for Democracy and the Economic Warfare Institute.