Now that US President Barack Obama is nearing the end of his second term, he is being forced to do the thing he hates more than anything else – fight.
According to (as of yet unsubstantiated) media reports, in the 24 hours following the brutal attack by Omar Mateen on the gay club in Orlando, Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed during an attack carried out by the US military. Regardless of whether this report is accurate or not, there is no room for doubt that the attack in Orlando and the response by the American administration in the days following it have brought the level of confrontation between the US and ISIS up a notch.
President Obama took office in January 2009. At the time, the US was mired in bloody wars on two fronts: Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, America was dealing with substantial financial deficit, partly as a result of these protracted wars. Obama promised the American public that he would bring all of the soldiers back home. He made strong and convincing statements that even convinced the Royal Swedish Academy to grant him a Nobel Peace Prize right at the start of his first term. Obama’s idea was that as the leader of the strongest nation in the world (which has since weakened greatly) he could fulfill his vision of bringing peace to the world starting at home.
In June of that same year, Obama hurried to Cairo and delivered a speech in which he spoke about his beliefs and plans for the future of relations between his country and the Muslim world.
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings....”
This was meant to convince 1.4 billion Muslims around the world that there is no war between Islam and modern civilization, and that Islam and the US really can exist side by side. In retrospect, Obama served as a prophet of public diplomacy – a diplomacy based on public discourse, negotiations and achieving goals through peaceful means. Every conflict that occurred over the course of his presidency Obama has tried to use public diplomacy to solve. He passionately believes that diplomacy is the solution in every case, as opposed to military actions, economic sanctions or other forceful methods.
But, if we look at what’s actually happened since Obama took office, we can see that this plan has not been terribly successful. In fact, it’s been a bit of a slap in the face for the president. Not only have the various wars around the globe not ended due to US efforts to refrain from using military force, but America’s image has been terribly tarnished and its power considerably weakened.
In every place that Obama was engaged – Ukraine, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – his method backfired (except for one instance in which he succeeded in convincing Syria to refrain from using chemical weapons). And yet this one exception just goes to prove that in the end, this effort wasn’t really successful either, since ISIS has succeeded in conquering large parts of Syria, where it is busy constructing a global caliphate.
The absurd has won. Obama, who employed the US military to strike hard and severely hurt al-Qaida and even eliminate its leader, Osama bin-Laden, has on the other hand enabled an even more extreme entity, ISIS, to overtake large parts of Syria and Iraq. Obama’s nightmare has actually come true. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian army have filled the void and are starting to feel quite at home in Syria. They are intent on strengthening and bolstering Syrian President Bashar Assad in his fight against the rebels, and so have put efforts to fight ISIS on the backburner.
Obama suffered additional failures in Libya and Egypt. Libya, though Muammar Gaddafi was ousted, became a hotbed of terrorism, and in Egypt, the violent and extremist Muslim Brotherhood took over the country, which for many long years had been a US ally. It was a miracle that the Egyptian army managed to take back control of the country.
Obama’s new enemy is even more ruthless and sophisticated, and it knows how to manipulate the global media.
In fact, there is no place in the world – especially in the US and Europe – that is safe from this new threat. It wakes up sleeper cells each time they are needed and operates individuals when that is more appropriate.
This new threat wages its war using the media and social networks, reaching every corner of the globe. The social networks are trying to fight back, but to no avail.
Obama knows that he has failed on almost every one of these fronts, but refuses to admit as much. As expected, Obama has refrained from naming radical Islam as the culprit for the attacks in Orlando, Paris, or London. As an expert in public diplomacy who understands the power of words, Obama has used only unspecific, general statements when berating the enemy for its crimes.
Of course, he’s almost reached the end of his second term, so he knows that no one is going to bother making a fuss at this point.
Whichever candidate replaces Obama in another six months will need to immediately put into action a plan to fight terrorism that is tough and realistic.
She or he must strike a devastating blow against terrorist infrastructure to bring back peace to the world. Public diplomacy will always remain an option, but it must be put to use only after military actions and economic sanctions have succeeded in beating down and overwhelming the destructive terrorist organizations that have bullied us into the corner of the ring.
The author is an MK from the Zionist Union Party and recently published a book titled Caught in the Net, which examines how terrorism affects public consciousness.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.