Rudderless in the Growing Storm

Rudderless in the Growing Storm

© David Burton 2015


     The Mid-East has become a region of conflict, terror, genocide, unimaginable brutality and a total humanitarian disaster. In addition, a prime sponsor of these disasters is diligently working on the development nuclear weapons to further enable it to achieve its objectives of regional (and subsequently, global) hegemony and jihadist martyrdom that would mean the death of millions of its opponents along with the deaths of an even greater number of innocent people.

     With this as a background, we Americans should be asking the following questions: “What is our government’s strategy in combating this imminent threat?” “What has recent American policy been in the Mid-East and how successful has it been?” “If we have a policy and a strategy, how are we coordinating our efforts with those of our allies?”

     The answer to the first question, was answered by President Barack Obama, when asked what was America’s policy to combatting the threat pose by ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “In a moment of unscripted honesty, President Obama told reporters during a {September 2014} news briefing who asked about Islamic State, ‘We don’t have a strategy yet.’ [Emphasis mine]” (Ref. 1)

     While America stumbles around in the dark, without any coherent Mid-East policy or strategy, Iran is resurrecting the Persian Empire and spreading its tentacles of terror and unrest in an ever-expanding part of the region. Saudi Arabia, which has been urgently warning the United States of the growing threat posed by Iran and unsuccessfully urging the U.S. to take action, is now effectively at war with Iran in Yemen.

     In light of the vacuum created by the absence of an American Mid-East strategy, even Israel and many of its professed enemies have formed an unannounced and unacknowledged alliance to combat the imminent threat posed to all of them by Iran. Israel and the Sunni Arab countries of the Mid-East have jointly been telling the U.S. that America is wrong in not forcing Iran to stop its nuclear development program and in not compelling Iran to stop supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Huthis in Yemen, and in destabilizing the entire Mid-East region. It is unheard of for Israel and its Arab enemies to speak with one voice. But, they have been doing just this! And, so far, President Obama and his administration are not listening!

     As with the rest of American foreign policy in the Mid-East, or rather the lack thereof, the nations of the region cannot comprehend the strange and confusing behavior of the U.S. in dealing with events in Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and now Yemen. America’s behavior in its dealings with its supposed friend, Israel, and with its avowed enemy, Iran, adds still more confusion in trying to understand America’s positions.

     America’s lack of an effective strategy is glaringly evident in Iraq. We eliminated a tyrannical regime, but then backed out, leaving a power vacuum that has resulted in internal ethnic and religious conflict and the emergence of an inhumane terrorist group called ISIS or ISIL or just IS. President Obama ordered all U.S. troops out of Iraq, then decided to keep “some” troops there. He then ordered limited airstrikes against ISIS. He promised the American public no U.S. boots on the ground but urged other countries to put their own troops in harm’s way by committing their troops to fighting the ISIS threat. Today, the situation is even more confusing – we are allowing Iran to take over the leadership in the war with ISIS in Iraq!

     “U.S. air, aid, and advisers in Iraq are currently furthering Iran’s interests, not America’s. Today in Iraq, American advisers stay in safe shelters, while Iranian soldiers and generals fight alongside Shia militias and Iraqi soldiers on the front lines. Our bombing supports Iranian-directed movements on the ground. This bizarre situation brings into question American policy goals. Are the administration’s actions ad hoc and poorly thought out, or is there a hidden, more foreboding agenda? In the State of the Union address, President Obama said that ‘in Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance.’ Actually, America is following Iranian leadership inside Iraq. In 2007, when President Bush surged more than 20,000 American troops into Iraq, Iran responded with explosive devices and assassination teams to kill our soldiers. Eight years ago, it would have been risible to predict that American troops would deploy a second time to support Iran’s Republican Guard. Yet that is what we have done . . . . President Obama has provided air strikes, while forbidding any American to engage in combat. Canadian advisers have been in combat on the front lines, marking targets for U.S. aircraft. The American advisers must stay in the rear. This is publicly embarrassing and militarily zany. Iran is pursuing a consistent policy to extend its influence. Inside Syria, Iran has sent in its Hezbollah militia from Lebanon to fight for Assad, its client. We are bombing the Sunni terrorists. Mr. Obama has designated the Assad forces off limits. Rhetorically he declaims against Assad and Hezbollah, but he refrains from action. In contrast, last week in Syria, our ally Israel bombed and killed several Hezbollah leaders and the Iranian general who was advising them. Inside Iraq, it is again the Iranians who display more consistency than the administration. . . . Other Iranians are on the battlefields and inside the operations centers of the Iraqi army, where they study our techniques and learn how we think and plan campaigns. Iranian aircraft are transiting Iraqi airspace to supply the Assad regime and are bombing targets inside Iraq. Addressing those Iranian strikes, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The net effect is positive. . . . The Iraqis have the overall responsibility for their own ground and air operations, and what they choose to do is up to them.” How is the effect “positive” when the end state is an Iraq more closely tied to Iran? About 7,000 Iranian soldiers are committed to the fight, while 3,000 American advisers stay safe in the rear. Given its close control of Shia militias, Iran can, whenever it chooses, engineer bombings that will drive us out of the country. We stay at Iranian sufferance. That will end someday, as it did in Lebanon when Hezbollah, trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, blew up U.S. barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines. When it is in Iran’s interests, we will be pushed out of Iraq. . . . On two levels, the administration’s policy in Iraq is confusing and suspect. First, Obama will not acknowledge the religious base of our enemy. He calls them ‘violent extremists’ . . . But he refuses to join France, England, Germany, Egypt, and other nations in calling on peaceful Muslim leaders to speak up. . . . Obama, however, persists in evading it. As long as he refuses to recognize the self-professed motivation of our Islamist enemies, he cannot take steps to remove their support system among the too-silent majority of peaceful Muslims. On the second level, the policy is foreboding. For Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States — all allied with America for the past half-century — our aligning with Iranian forces inside Iraq increases their concerns that America has switched sides. Obama is pleading with Iran for a deal about its nuclear-weapons program. It represents the last, best hope for his legacy in foreign policy, which he has botched. And so he will not upset Iran by frowning on its military presence and increasing influence inside Iraq. Our traditional allies in the region believe that the administration is allowing the balance of power to shift against them, as Iran consolidates its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.” (Ref. 2)

     Recent failures in American foreign policy in the Mid-East highlight the fact that President Obama does not like to take advice from others, whether they are members of his own political party, his own administration, or from foreign leaders who are our friends and allies – most recently advice from Israel’s Prime Minister with respect to Iran and from the king of Saudi Arabia with respect to the exploding jihadist threat in Yemen. “In Iraq, the president ignored the advice of his own Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, failing to maintain a military presence in the country.” (Ref. 3)

     Leadership requires the courage to act. In hindsight, any action may prove to be right or wrong. But a leader must choose a course of action. Dithering is not an option! In a storm, the captain of a ship must decide what actions to take to prevent the loss of his ship. Inaction is not an option for a true leader nor for a ship’s captain. America’s recent behavior in dealing with the ever-growing danger in the Mid-East is that of a ship without a captain or a rudder, and of a nation with a befuddled leader. America’s handling of the threat posed by Iran is a prime example. While many would disagree with the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities recently proposed by the United States’ former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, still it is one option that the Obama administration has consistently shied away from while professing that “all options are on the table.” It has been an action threatened by the Obama administration, but one which Iran has justifiably concluded that U.S. will not take. Iran certainly has many recent examples of U.S. failure to back up its threats on which to base this conclusion! The realization that the threatened course of action is real just might force the Ayatollahs in Iran to halt their headlong dash toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, the destruction of Israel, and the subjugation of the Arab nations in the Mid-East.

     Former ambassador Bolton has proposed that the U.S. take military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear bomb-making facilities, stating: "The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program . . . ‘Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure.’
     “The ‘inconvenient truth,’ he insisted, is that ‘only military action like Israel's 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.'” (Ref. 4)

     In another part of the region, U.S. policy in Libya can hardly be called successful or even coherent. It is another unhappy example of the consequence of the lack of leadership. “Almost three years after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi, oil-rich Libya is in utter chaos, as militias fight for control of the country and its elected government has fled along with tens of thousands of citizens.
      - - -
     “The turmoil in Libya {resulted from} U.S. intervention to remove an anti-U.S. regime {which has resulted in} another failed state and more instability in the Middle East.
      - - -
     “. . . {I}n Libya in 2011, . . . a U.S.-led bombing campaign with NATO and Qatar saved anti-government militias from being overrun in the city of Benghazi and helped them overthrow an erratic dictator who ruled for 42 years. That effort also relied on partnering with supposed moderates so U.S. ground forces would not be needed.
     “In the end {however}, radical elements wound up being empowered, as security in Libya deteriorated dramatically.
     “A year after Gadhafi's overthrow, an al-Qaeda terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi killed four U.S. citizens, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
     “Last month {August 2014} Islamist militias whose political leaders lost this summer's elections to a secular coalition ejected government forces from the country's capital, Tripoli. The radical militias have since announced their own government, while warring with one another for control.
     “Meanwhile, the elected parliament is convening in a converted car ferry in the port city of Tobruk near the Egyptian border, and Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have sent fighter jets to bomb the militants. More than 250,000 people have fled the fighting, according to the United Nations.
     “The Benghazi attack left ‘an ugly scar,’ and taught Obama ‘to be even more incremental’ in future conflicts . . . Since then, ‘he's doubled down on the formula of doing just enough to not get criticized for doing nothing.’ [Emphasis mine]
     {In the meantime, concerns grow} about the potential of Libyan militias Ansar al Shariah and others to continue to metastasize and spread to Algeria, Egypt … and spread to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other nations and become a serious security issue to the rest of the world,’ said {the U.S.} deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.
      - - -
     “Democratic and Republican . . . members {of the House of Representatives} said U.S. efforts to mediate between warring parties that have rejected the election results seem divorced from reality. [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 5)

     The American foreign policy debacle in Syria is further proof of the Obama administration’s lack of a coherent and realistic foreign policy in the region. We supported the popular uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad – but we never really provided concrete support to the opposition and we never considered how to fill the vacuum that would be left by the removal of Assad. Then we drew lines in the sand, which, if crossed would lead to American actions. When this line was crossed, we changed our mind and refused to respond, leaving Russia and, eventually, Iran to assume a leadership role in Syria when they lent their support to Assad. Some repercussions from this inaction are reported below.

     “Syria . . . derided President Barack Obama’s decision to hold off on punitive military strikes.
     “In a sharply worded front-page article, the state-run newspaper Al-Thawra, expressing official thinking, said Obama’s turn-about on military action was ‘the start of the historic American retreat.’ {It might more correctly have called it ‘the continuation of the historic American retreat.’}
     “’The hesitation and the disappointment is so obvious in the words of President Obama . . . The confusion was clear as well.’ {noted Syria’s deputy foreign minister}
      - - -
     “. . . After days of edging closer to military action against Syria, Obama suddenly announced . . . he would first seek approval from Congress . . .”(Ref. 6) So much for the United States presenting a credible threat of action and/or retribution!

     The United States’ policy in its dealings with Egypt is yet another story of incoherence, uncertainty, and lack of leadership. We failed to back Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak – not necessarily the most democratic leader in the world, but one who had provided stability in the region and was friendly toward the United States. Sometimes one has to hold one’s nose when dealing with foreign leaders. Let’s not forget our cooperation with Josef Stalin in the war against Nazi Germany. We might not approve of all the actions of China’s Communist leaders, but we continue to deal with them.

     For a time we supported the “democratically elected” Mohamed Morsi, backed by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and then we kept somewhat silent as he was deposed by the Egyptian military and their leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, even though Sisi and the Egyptian military are friendly to the U.S and Israel, and are opposed to the terrorist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. U.S. support of Sisi is certainly not clearly evident. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has offered to supply the Egyptian military with arms which would help Russia’s efforts to re-establish its influence in the Middle-East. “Obama’s inability to maintain America’s historic alliance with the most respected nation in the Arab World inflames an already volatile situation and spells nothing but trouble for the U.S.” (Ref. 7)

     As one commentator said about America’s confusing behavior during the turmoil in Egypt: ”{T]he Obama White House hasn't helped matters by shifting policy ground almost daily, causing confusion, and thereby squandering America's credibility and limited but precious influence. President Obama has got to learn the fundamental rule of dealing with careening crises: State your basic principles and then shut up publicly!” (Ref. 8)

     While the United States has limited power to shape events in Egypt, it could have real influence. But to use such influence effectively requires consistency and this consistency has been absent throughout the Obama administration.

     In Yemen, another disaster is unfolding, and America is looking more and more foolish to friend and foe alike. Just a short time back, President Obama was touting the success of his administration’s policy in combatting Islamic terrorism in that country. Noteworthy was his failure to identify these “terrorists” as Muslim extremists or Islamic jihadists.

     In September 2014, President Obama claimed “success” in Yemen in the following words:

     “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out [the Islamic State] wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen [Emphasis mine] and Somalia for years.”(Ref. 9)

     As an aside, since when has American strategy in Somalia been considered to be “successful”?

     In any event, the situation in Yemen has rapidly deteriorated with the U.S. first pulling out its diplomats and then its Special Operations troops. “Truly, it is a terrifying development. The great religious fissure between Sunni and Shia Muslims that dominates the Middle East has erupted into open conflict in Yemen, the region’s poorest country, threatening to engulf the entire area in a wider war.
     “In a dramatic escalation of the stakes, a Sunni coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against Iran-backed Shia Houthi rebels who have swept south through the country.
     “As Yemen veered towards political disintegration, the conflict exploded into a region-wide crisis that could have far-reaching and unpredictable international consequences.
     “But the far more pressing concern is whether we are now seeing a proxy war in Yemen between its neighbour Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni power, and Iran, the leading Shia power, explode into a regional conflict that could sweep us all up in its wake.
      - - -
     “Iran {has seized} the opportunity to taunt its old rival {Saudi Arabia} by backing the {Shia} Houthis and establishing its influence in the Saudis’ backyard.
     “But the recent Houthi advances have proved too much for Saudi, whose primary aim is to re-establish order in Yemen. It amassed a formidable coalition — Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt — of Sunni-led states and sent in its fighter jets to send a powerful message to Iran: stop meddling in Arab affairs. {Remember: Iran is Muslim, but it is not Arab.}
     “The Saudis also regard Iran’s influence in Yemen as evidence of a much larger drive by Shia Iran for regional dominance {as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out in his recent speech to the American Congress}.
     “They {Saudi Arabia} claim that Iran is using armed proxies to take over other states. Nothing happens in Lebanon, for instance, without the approval of the Iranian-backed Shia militia Hizbollah, which also provides Syria’s beleaguered President Assad with his light infantry.
      - - -
     “Yemen is not only home to the most tactically lethal branch of Al Qaeda but now ISIS has a foothold there too. . . .
     “Before the U.S. military moved out of the country, they were allowed to launch drone strikes on Al Qaeda. But now, in their absence, terrorists are no longer being targeted so effectively, and will only flourish as a result.
     “To make matters still more precarious for the West in its fight against terror, Iran and the Shia militias it backs are proving an increasingly vital component of the ground war against ISIS in Iraq, with Iranian commanders directing them and supplying them too.
     “This means the West {and most particularly, the United States} is walking on diplomatic eggshells. What if Iran took over much of Iraq, whose government and population is largely Shia as well? Would the Saudis stand for that?
      - - -
     “We now have a bizarre — and potentially very dangerous — situation in which U.S. warplanes are providing air cover for Iranian-backed militias in Iraq in a joint effort against ISIS, while 1,200 miles to the south in Yemen, the Americans are helping Saudi pilots bomb Shia insurgents supported by Iran. [emphasis mine]
     “So the U.S. is bombing Iran’s enemies in one country, while helping to bomb its allies in another.
     “On top of all this, American and Iranian diplomats are resuming their talks about how to restrain Tehran’s nuclear programme.” (Ref. 10)

     To make matters even worse, Obama and his administration are engaged in an undeclared diplomatic war with its staunchest ally in the region – Israel. Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. has now arguably taken the side of Israel’s enemies. The refusal of the president, other top administration officials, and many in the president’s Democratic party to even listen to the pleas of Israel’s prime minister to rein in Iran’s nuclear and geopolitical ambitions during his recent speech before the American Congress must have been greeted with glee in Tehran and in the lairs of Israel’s other vicious adversaries. The American support of Israel in recently defending itself from the ongoing Hamas and Iranian led attacks on Israel from Gaza was tepid at best.

     “Under Obama’s leadership, America’s position in the Middle East has weakened considerably. We were unprepared for the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings, and the President’s response has been dangerously indecisive. . . . {H}e continues to champion a Palestinian state while denouncing the current Syrian state—and the two are eerily similar. If Palestine were a state, it would be another corrupt enemy of Israel, our most important ally in the region, and would be a state sponsor of terrorism like Syria.” (Ref. 11)

     Ultimately, the responsibility for determining American foreign policy and for approving a strategy to effectively implement this policy resides with the president. A major reason for America’s lack of an effective foreign policy in the Mid-East is that President Obama does not view radical Islam and jihadist terrorism as important. He is more interested in making friends with the Moslem world than in confronting the radicals and terrorists that murder, rape and pillage in their misbegotten concept of Islam. “From the beginning of his term in office, Obama has evidenced a deep moral confusion, a distorted worldview perhaps based on a bizarre upbringing. . . .
     “He professes to be a Christian, yet his behavior screams otherwise. Even if he actually is a Christian, he undeniably has a nostalgic attraction and sympathy for Islam, which, among other things, obscures his grasp of the enormity of the threat the world faces from Islamists.
     “His approach to combating Islamic terrorism is first to downplay its existence and pervasiveness. Beyond that, it is obvious he rejects the idea that there is anything inherent to Islam that leads to radicalism and violence.
      - - -
     “He has carried his attitude on this well beyond rhetoric and into governance. At the highest levels of his executive infrastructure, he has directed that we change the way we think and speak about jihad, radical Islam and Islamic terrorism. He has encouraged the federal vernacular to be changed to sanitize references to Islam from our description of acts of terrorism – even those that are unquestionably committed by Islamic terrorists.
      - - -
     President “Obama spends more time downplaying and denying Islamic terrorism and releasing dangerous terrorists from Guantanamo Bay than he does leading this nation in a war against it. That’s because he is not committed to a war against it.” (Ref. 12)

     Even President Obama’s former secretary of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, criticized the president for having a foreign policy (or lack thereof) founded on the principle of “Not doing anything stupid”. In Clinton’s view, President Obama “did not act soon enough on ISIS and ‘Great nations need organizing principles, and don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle.’” (Ref. 13)

     “Some of America’s most decorated generals and a former intelligence official of the highest rank declared this week {late January 2015} that the Obama Administration has no clear, overarching plan for how to win our various Middle East conflicts. [Emphasis mine] . . .
     “Without a clear strategy from the White House and the return of a robust defense budget, the United States is set for failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, argued former generals James Mattis and John Keane, as well as former admiral William Fallon in congressional testimony . . .
     “The United States ‘needs to come out from our reactive crouch and take a firm strategic stance in defense of our values,’ . . . a former commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.” (Ref. 14)

     “Most Americans now realize that the Obama administration’s approach to combatting the Islamic terrorist threat is insufficient. U.S. intelligence and White House security advisors failed to recognize the rising threat to the U.S.-backed Yemeni government by Iranian-backed Houthis. And some, including President Obama, are reluctant to publicly admit ongoing conflicts in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia are being driven by Islamic religious zealots, groups, and nations who engage in, or sponsor, terrorism.” (Ref. 15)

     For the past several years, there has been an ever growing storm that originated with Muslim extremism in the Middle-East. This storm has grown worse in recent years, in large part, as a result of the lack of a coherent American foreign policy and strategy. We are drifting aimlessly on a rudderless ship in the midst of a violent storm. There is no effective leader at the helm of the American ship of state.


  1. Obama's Foreign Policy Failures Leave US Weak, Armstrong Williams, newsmax, 7 October 2014.
  2. Obama’s Confused Iraqi Policy, Bing West and Owen West, National Review, 27 January 2015.
  3. Team Obama's foreign policy failures: Can our president keep America safe?, Governor Bobby Jindal, Fox News,
    3 December 2014.
  4. Bolton 'Bomb Iran' Essay Among Most Emailed at NY Times, Cathy Burke, newsmax, 27 March 2015.
  5. Lessons of Libya cast shadow on Syria Strategy, Oren Dorell, USA TODAY, 14 September 2014.
  6. ‘Historic American Retreat’: Syria Mocks Obama’s Delay on Military Action as ‘Confusion’ and ‘Hesitation’,
    Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski, The Blaze, 1 September 2013.
    Joe Calandra Jr., Liberty News , 21 August 2013.
  8. Obama's Egypt Flip-Flop, Leslie H. Gelb, The Daily Beast: Article 02.04.11 , Accessed 27 March 2015.
  9. Four months ago, Obama called Yemen’s war on terror a success. Now the Yemeni government may fall.,
    Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, 20 January 2015.
  10. On the brink of a new Middle Eastern catastrophe: Saudi Arabia sends war planes into Yemen in a terrifying clash with Iran leaving region at boiling point, Michael Burleigh, The Daily Mail, 27 March 2015.
  11. How Has President Obama Failed with Foreign Policy?, askHeritage, Accessed 28 March 2015.
    12 January 2015.
  13. Obama’s Failed Foreign Policy Change, Philip Geraldi, The American Conservative, 18 September 2014.
  14. Obama’s ISIS Policy Has Critics in High Places, The American Interest, 29 January 2015.
    15 February 2015.


  28 March 2015 {Article 215; Govt_57}    
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