Most people, when they think of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, remember his words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” However, much earlier on in the speech, JFK said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” He went on to speak to our allies, assuring them of our commitments to them.
But where have those commitments gone? The U.S. is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world, condemned on all sides for its inaction and reactionary responses to events in Iraq. We have been hearing a lot lately about ISIS, but they are only the most prominent terrorist group because of their execution of James Foley and the military resources they have been able to bring to bear. But by devoting such a great deal of resources to only one terrorist organization, the Obama Administration has not been able to see the larger picture. The problem is not so much ISIS as it is trans-national terrorism, which cannot be pinned down to any one region or area.
That’s why we need to get back to basics. We need to follow JFK’s vision of paying any price, bearing any burden and meeting any hardship. That may mean sending troops back into the region. It may mean that we must have our hearts broken as we have to watch one of our own beheaded; our refusal to negotiate with those who threaten the liberties of anyone, anywhere may necessitate that. Beyond all doubt, it means that we must follow the example set by George H.W. Bush, who “painstakingly assembled” an international coalition in 1991 to defeat Saddam Hussein. It certainly means that we have to deal with this threat together, just as the world came together to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Russian government’s hand in the tragedy of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.
Perhaps we need not invade Iraq or Syria to get the job done. Rather, each member of the international coalition can address different aspects of the problem; Libya was a perfect example. In the case of Iraq, France and Great Britain could continue to provide humanitarian aid while Italy and Germany provide weapons to Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the field. Besides cooperation with our European allies, the Obama Administration needs to be ruthlessly pragmatic in eradicating terrorism from the Middle East as a whole; this means not being afraid to collaborate with Bashar al-Assad in helping him to destroy any terrorists by using his country as a base of operations. This also means urging Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen to join the coalition to prevent terrorist cells from forming in the first place. Finally, this means continuing our presence in Afghanistan to ensure stability in the region.
In the end, the actions of the Obama Administration will determine how this conflict ends. We can keep responding to conflicts in a piecemeal fashion, demonstrating reactionary efforts at combating threats to stability in the Middle East, or we can commit to helping the region for the long-term by working together, everyone with hands on. It’s time to stop leading from behind and going alone; it’s time to work together.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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