American Leadership in Mideast Matters for Our National Security

The Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT

It is painful beyond words to behold the bloodthirsty brutality of the jihadists in the Middle East right now. But perhaps even more disturbing is the sight of an American president unable or unwilling to accurately assess the magnitude of the threat to America and our allies, and taking hesitant, awkward, vacillating half-measures in response.

The forces of radical Islam are on the move. In Syria, nearly 200,000 people are dead. Millions are on the run. In Iraq, the jihadists are slaughtering Muslims, Christians, and other minorities. In Gaza, the radicals have fired more than 3,800 rockets aimed at massacring Israeli civilians.

The jihadists may use different names (the Islamic State, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) and different tactics (rockets, tunnels, beheadings), but their goals are the same. Obliterate Israel. Topple our Arab allies. Establish an Islamic caliphate. Then launch a series of catastrophic attacks on the United States.

How is it possible that President Obama seems more interested in playing golf than in standing with our friends in the midst of a war that threatens our security too?

I have just returned from leading a solidarity trip to Israel. My colleagues and I witnessed the jihadist offensive firsthand. In the three days we were there, Hamas fired more than 300 rockets at Israeli cities, including Jerusalem. We heard the Code Red alerts go off. We experienced the adrenaline that comes with running to a bomb shelter. We met with IDF soldiers on the front lines near Gaza. We visited parents whose only son was kidnapped and murdered by these jihadists just weeks ago.

I was deeply impressed by the courage and resilience of the Israeli people in the face of this cruel enemy. I was blessed by seeing their immense love and appreciation for America, and particularly for U.S. funding of their miraculous Iron Dome rocket defense system. But I was also struck by how many Israelis privately expressed to me their growing fear that Obama does not seem to truly understand what is happening in the region, and isn’t sufficiently determined to defeat this enemy.

The president has told us repeatedly that “al-Qaida is on the run” and “we have decimated al-Qaida.” But his policies have actually allowed the jihadists to become stronger.

In 2011, I warned that the president’s foolish and reckless Iraq policy — especially his inability to build an effective working relationship with the Iraqi leadership, and his decision to precipitously withdraw all U.S. military forces by the end of that year — meant the United States would lose the war in Iraq, and create an environment into which other radical Islamic forces would be drawn in. That now appears to be true.

There is a way to turn this around. The president should immediately:

Crush the Islamic State and prevent a caliphate. Hit them hard and relentlessly from the air. Pinpricks have slowed the Islamic State advance, but is the president willing to accept a country in the heart of the Middle East governed by such Islamic radicals? Decisive air power is needed now.

Arm the Kurds. The Kurdish people in northern Iraq are fighting for their lives. They have long proven their friendship with America. They have demonstrated they are a moderate, peaceful Muslim people. They have tried to create a safe haven for Christians and other minorities. Stand with them. Provide them weapons of the amount and caliber that will truly help them defend their people.

Help the new Iraqi prime minister. Nouri al-Maliki is gone. Good. Haider al-Abadi is new but untested. Work with him. Show him and the Iraqi people that America has not cut them loose. Urge them to build an inclusive democracy that truly and fully welcomes and empowers Sunnis as well as Shias, along with Christians, Kurds and all other minority groups. Provide Baghdad with real-time intelligence, as well as more military training and logistical support to regain the upper hand against the radicals.

Stand with Israel. John Kerry has been a disaster as secretary of state. Bring in a special envoy who treats Israel as a true friend and faithful American ally, not an irritant or obstacle to Mideast peace. Stop pressuring the Israelis to accept premature and deeply flawed ceasefire agreements. Stop halting or micromanaging the transfer of weapons to Israel that we have already promised them. Stand with the Israelis without hesitation or prevarication.

Support our Arab friends. The Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis, and some in the Gulf know firsthand the threat posed by the radicals. They want to work with the United States to prevent the creation of a caliphate. They feel abandoned by this White House, which seems more focused on helping Hamas and placating Iran than engaging friends.

Seal America’s southern border. Every day this administration refuses to stop people crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally, the more likely terrorists will use these routes to plant sleeper cells inside the homeland.

Turn up the heat on Iran. The most serious threat to America, Israel, and our Arab allies is a nuclear-armed Iran. The Iranians are playing this White House. They want a deal that allows them to keep all of their centrifuges and enrichment equipment, their stockpiles of uranium, and their capacity to race for a nuclear bomb within a matter of months. Say no. Implement tougher sanctions. Move more military assets into the Gulf region. Make clear there will be serious consequences if Iran continues to defy the international community.

American leadership in the Mideast matters for our national security. There is a window of time for America to regain the initiative, and protect ourselves and our allies, but we need a leader who levels with the American people about the nature of the threat and the serious consequences of inaction. Mr. President, it is time to tee it up in the game that you were elected to play.


Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is chairman of Patriot Voices and author of “Blue Collar Conservatives.”


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