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Opinion: Columnists

America should remember the lessons of Obama's forgotten wars

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James Jay Carafano,Columnists,Barack Obama,Iraq,Benghazi,Syria,Analysis,al Qaeda

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army poured across the 38th parallel. One young U.S. lieutenant, eying the enemy horde’s advance, turned to his seasoned sergeant and asked, “What do we do, Sarge?” The reply, “Sir, I don’t know what you are going to do, but I am going to run.”

The early going was disastrous for the American troops. Then things went better. Ultimately, after years of seesaw conflict, the bloodshed ended in a stalemate.

Sandwiched between World War II and Vietnam, the Korean conflict is often referred to as America’s forgotten war. July 27 marked the 60th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities, but few Americans noted the occasion.

Korea may have faded from the average American’s consciousness, but it still looms large in American foreign policy. That’s because the U.S. stuck by South Korea after the war. Today, it stands as a strong democracy, a vibrant economy and a steadfast ally.

Korea may not be America’s last forgotten war, however — at least, not if President Obama has his way.

This administration has been involved in three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Obama seldom speaks of the first two, other than to criticize his predecessor’s policies there or to trumpet his own.

Those wars, he suggests, were of an earlier, less enlightened era. Yet America still has boots on the ground in Afghanistan and has suffered more casualties there on his watch than during all of the Bush years.

Libya was a war of Obama’s own choosing. Yet it appears to have fallen to the very bottom of the president’s memory hole. In last week’s address on Syria, he never once mentioned Libya.

Instead, Obama painted himself as a man dedicated to ending wars, not starting them. And certainly he has tried to end each of his wars with alacrity. Indeed, in each case, he has rushed for the exit before the job was finished. And U.S. influence and interests have suffered severely as a result.

The levels of violence in Iraq today are greater than when Obama entered the Oval Office. That’s largely because he never seriously attempted to negotiate a residual U.S. military force there.

At minimal risk and cost, such a force could have provided an “insurance policy” against the resurgence of sectarian violence and transnational terrorism and given us a stronger, more dependable ally.

In Afghanistan, the administration still rushes toward its “zero option”—no combat forces after 2014. All the gains made to create a firebreak against a resurgent al Qaeda and Taliban will be lost. The likelihood of a further destabilization of Pakistan and confrontations between India and Pakistan will also increase sharply.

In Libya, terrorists quickly moved in when the bombs stopped falling. Soon, there was the tragedy in Benghazi. Moreover, the people of Libya now find themselves arguably worse off. Oil exports — the lifeline of their economy — are now lower than during the height of the civil war.

In May, Obama declared the war against al Qaeda all but won. Ten weeks later, the State Department shut down 22 embassies over fears of an attack. From the Iberian Peninsula across Africa, Eurasia, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East, al Qaeda appears to be making a comeback.

This is not a president with a strong, focused foreign policy. This a president with attention deficit disorder when it comes to foreign affairs.

It is disturbing to see him contemplating engagement in the Syria civil war, where American interests are limited when he has been so anxious to run away from problems where we have so much at stake.

JAMES JAY CARAFANO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
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James Jay Carafano

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The Washington Examiner