Obama's war of democracy in Iraq, Syria

Before starting war on Islamic State, President Obama pushed a freedom agenda on Iraq: It must have a sustainable democracy. But the war is also in Syria. Might he also be forced to push democracy there?

Syrians fleeing an assault by Islamic State fighters wait at the border with Turkey Sept. 18.

One feather in the cap for many American presidents is to save a foreign democracy or, better yet, to create a new one. President Obama did not enter office with that aspiration. His goal was to first bolster American democracy. During the 2011 Arab Spring, he largely stood by. During the crisis in Ukraine, he has largely let Europe take the lead.

Not so in the Iraq of 2014.

Before Mr. Obama committed American forces to “destroy” the Islamic State group, he insisted that an authoritarian prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, step down and that an inclusive government be formed in Baghdad. In other words, the fight against the evil of IS terrorism first required an assertion of its opposite, a sustainable democracy. Out-with-the-bad needed in-with-the-good.

In wielding US military leverage to promote democracy in Iraq, Obama now falls in line with modern presidential history. He also ensures that his actions meet his pro-democracy rhetoric, such as this line spoken Wednesday at the United Nations:

“We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”

His newfound freedom agenda, however, still faces a challenge. Obama’s war on IS is not only in Iraq: It is also in Syria, and includes not only US airstrikes but also the arming of anti-IS Syrian rebels. And for three years, those “moderate” rebels have fought for democracy and to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad. At some point, Obama may face a decision to use force to help bring democracy to Syria.

In 2013, he almost did bomb Syria – not for the sake of democracy but to retaliate for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians. Russia intervened to head off the US threat, forcing its Syrian ally into a deal to eliminate the weapons.

Over decades, the US has been forced to learn many lessons on when and how to promote democracy. George W. Bush bit off more than he could chew in the Iraq invasion of 2003. Has Obama overplayed the US role in both Syria and Iraq?

“We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come,” Obama promised in his UN speech.

Such words now have some credibility after Obama’s action to save Iraq’s democracy. That move was not an overreach for a US grown weary of war and its ability to push for democracy with few mistakes. Syria might be an overreach.

Yet for Obama, two lessons are clear. Don’t let your rhetoric get ahead of your actions. And when you do act, act to support ideals as well as against something.

These sorts of feathers-in-caps don’t come easily for presidents.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Obama's war of democracy in Iraq, Syria
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today