Paying the Price for Foreign Policy Mood Swings

Last week’s defeat of the Iraqi army in Mosul at the hands of Islamist terrorists was not only a rout for Iraqi forces but also another major setback for what the United States had tried to achieve for that nation.

The latest news out of Iraq is particularly painful in light of the fact that 4,487 U.S. combat personnel died in
Iraq and 32,223  were wounded in order to secure that nation’s freedom. In addition to the terrible human toll of the invasion and occupation, the financial cost of war is estimated at $857 billion. Now, all that blood and treasure appears to have been expended in vain.

American foreign policy disasters have been a recurring theme during the last several years. In the Ukraine, in Syria, in Iran, in Egypt, in Libya — and now in Iraq — American interests have seen setback after setback.

While presidents are supposed to articulate foreign policy for the nation, they also have to be mindful of what course the American people want to take. What we are witnessing — first support for intervention followed by a call for withdrawal — is a reflection of the mood swings of American public opinion. Pulling out of Iraq was entirely consistent with American public opinion. Although Americans first supported the war, by 2007 polls reported that most Americans thought the war was a mistake and that American troops should fully withdraw as soon as possible.

However, although presidents have to be mindful of public opinion when it comes to foreign policy, they also have a responsibility to attempt to shape it and steer it in a direction — even at the cost of unpopularity — that they think will be in the best long-term interests of the American people. They also must make clear what the ramifications of their policies will be.

Now that Iraq is crumbling and the hope of a democratic state along with it, the president needs to set forth a clear and coherent policy as how America will respond this crisis that threatens to destabilize the entire region.