August 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Caution is the Obama Doctrine

President Barack Obama has not rushed headlong into foreign affairs, Richter writes. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

A series of foreign crises makes it look like the world has been set ablaze. President Barack Obama’s critics say his disengagement is to blame. Yet polls prove that most people want the president to pull back from America’s position as world policeman.

Contrary to public perception, President Obama has actually enjoyed a string of underappreciated foreign policy successes.

On Iran, he maneuvered the major powers into imposing banking and oil import sanctions on Tehran.

That economic pressure persuaded Iranian voters to elect a moderate president who promised to negotiate with the West over Iran’s nuclear program.

The president covertly sent military aid to moderate Syrian rebels, but he declined to give them anti-aircraft missiles.

Those missiles might have wound up in the hands of al-Qaida-type terrorists who could have used them to shoot down Western airliners.

Islamist anti-Assad forces recently morphed into ruthless ISIS.

Unlike Vladimir Putin, who recklessly gave anti-aircraft missiles to Russian separatists, President Obama’s refusal to provide anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels was prescient.

Obama cautioned Syria’s Bashir Assad that using chemical weapons would cross a red line.

When Assad later used chemical weapons on civilians, Obama warned that he would bomb Syria unless Assad destroyed his chemical weapons. Congress, both parties, and most Americans overwhelmingly opposed Obama’s threat to strike Syria.

The president’s perseverance produced a pact destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.

A proliferation precedent was set.

Imagine if Obama had not acted boldly and ISIS eventually took over Syria, acquiring Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal.

The people of Syria and incidentally the citizens of Israel too no longer need fear Assad’s “poor man’s nuclear deterrent,” chemical weapons.

Israel’s nuclear weapons were its deterrent against a Syrian chemical weapons attack.

That raison d’etre for Israel’s nuclear weapons is undermined. Israel could now propose a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

That prospect might help persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Obama had Osama bin Laden killed. He showed leadership in launching the allied air war to dethrone Qaddafi, leading to the dictator’s death. Qaddafi was suspected of ordering the Lockerbie Pan Am 103 bombing. After 9/11, President George W. Bush famously said that “America will bring our enemies to justice or we will bring justice to our enemies.”

Bush, over eight years, was unable to bring America’s two foremost foes to justice — Qaddafi and bin Laden.

It was Obama who finally delivered American-style justice to our enemies.

America doesn’t station its soldiers abroad without a status of forces agreement to protect its troops from local prosecution.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki was willing to give Washington his personal assurance that U.S. troops would be safe from prosecution. Instead, Obama wanted the Iraqi parliament to approve a SOFA rather than merely depend on Maliki’s word.

Obama was right not to trust the mercurial Maliki, who was forced to resign.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, Israel, and Ukraine, Obama’s foreign policy has protected Americans time after time.

Frank Richter, of Detroit, was a political writer for Ross Perot and an adviser on terrorism for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia.
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