As I've said before, foreign policy is difficult. It's not always easy to predict what policy will get other countries to behave the way you want, or how to balance competing considerations such as security, trade, human rights, and loyalty to our allies.
So maybe it's understandable when President Barack Obama says, "We don't have a strategy yet," when it comes to dealing with the Islamic State (aka "IS," "ISIS," "ISIL"), which has taken over large chunks of both Iraq and Syria. It's certainly no surprise, given Obama's "all over the map" flip-flopping on Iraq.
But, while it's fair to criticize Obama for not having a strategy for the Middle East, some of Obama's critics are going a step further. Pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, Allen West, Erick Erickson, and David Horowitz all insist that Obama does have a strategy, just one with sinister intentions.
West accuses Obama of being an Islamist. Horowitz says Obama is anti-Jewish. And Erickson and Limbaugh both see a plot to reduce America's power. The evidence, they say, is in Obama's inept foreign policy.
In other words, because it's so obvious what the right thing to do is in the Middle East, Obama's foreign policy failures can only be explained by malice.
The trouble is, the best course of action in the Middle East isn't obvious. Just look at the various pieces:
In Iraq, the Bush administration decided to withdraw combat troops (though Obama takes credit for it). Even if Obama could have kept a small number of troops in Iraq, they would have been a continuing target for militants and perhaps not numerous enough to push back ISIS. And the fear that our soldiers might be overrun - that is, captured and beheaded on video - by ISIS would have tempted us to send in even more troops, pulling us back into another dubious and costly Iraqi conflict.
In Syria, arming the rebels trying to oust Bashar al-Assad risked giving aid to exactly the Islamists that make up ISIS. On the other hand, the most formidable opponent of ISIS in Syria now is Assad himself. But he's been using his air force to drop barrel bombs on civilians, are we really going to side with him?
In Egypt, a popular uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak; elections put the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood in power, which was in turn ousted by another uprising. Should the Obama administration have supported Mubarak against the will of the people? Should we have tried to oust the Muslim Brotherhood ourselves? Egypt is arguably a case where human rights and democracy are gradually coalescing without U.S. intervention.
In Libya, President Muammar Qaddafi was an unpopular leader barely holding together a violently fractious nation. Yes, Islamists are now gaining traction amidst the chaos, but what was the U.S. supposed to do? Prop up Qaddafi? Secure the region with our own troops?
Obama also gets criticized for his role in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even though no U.S. president has done much to resolve it. Some might reasonably wish that Obama would do more to support Israel, but he still sends it billions in military aid, right? It's hardly fair to describe him as anti-Semitic.
Then there's Iran and its nuclear program, which perhaps serves as the best illustration of how limited America's options are. Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton have all done roughly the same thing: push for economic sanctions, don't resort to force but don't take the option off the table, either. Are they all Islamists?
The Middle East is a mess, and it's far from clear what the U.S. can accomplish by intervening in any (let alone all) of these conflicts. No doubt, Obama probably wishes he hadn't offered himself up as such a foreign policy master in 2008. But it's just demonizing to accuse him of siding with the Islamists.
Republicans and conservatives don't like it when people say that their economic policies are so obviously wrong that they can only be motivated by racism or some other sinister motive. Maybe they should start treating their opponents the way they'd like to be treated themselves.
Tellingly, Erickson has complained about the invective fellow conservatives directed at him when he supported giving aid to unaccompanied illegal minors and bringing Kent Brantly back to the U.S. to recover from the Ebola virus. Does Erickson realize that his readers were just flexing the muscles he helped them exercise?
Alasdair Denvil (@AlasdairDenvil) graduated Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.A. in Philosophy, and attended NYU's graduate program. He has written for Facts on File and PolicyMic.