Conservative media figures who have been longtime supporters of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are accusing the Obama administration of pursuing a policy of disengagement in the Middle East, pointing to the end of the war in Iraq and the troop drawdown in Afghanistan. But unmentioned in their criticism is when they think it would have been an appropriate time to withdraw from both countries, if at all.
On Friday September 14, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer appeared on Hannity to discuss the violent anti-American protests that have erupted in recent days in the Middle East. Krauthammer blamed the violence on America's foreign policy under Obama, accusing the president of disengaging in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He claimed that Obama has “changed American policy on the theory that the reason that people hated us was because we were tough,” adding:
KRAUTHAMMER: And he was now apologizing and promising to change course. We would no longer be tough. We would be loved. We would show compassion. And we would get out of Iraq. He sets a deadline for Afghanistan. He doesn't support the Green Revolution in Iran. He shows the Ayatollahs tremendous respect. He essentially protects them when they are under attack. He gets nowhere on the Iran nuclear issue. He is equivocal uncertain during the Arab Spring. He leads from behind in Libya. The theory was if we go soft, if we are very nice, if we say 'Assalamu alaikum,' enough times, everything will be all right. And what he decided is, the way to do that, the theory and therefore the practice is going to be, retreat and withdraw. Remember the line he uses? The tide of war is receding. That means the tide of American power is receding.
He added that Obama's policies have created a “vacuum” in the Middle East that radical Muslims “are now going to fill.”
Krauthammer's misguided sentiments echoed in the Fox chamber today when Fox News contributor and National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg, on America's Newsroom, said, “I agree with [Krauthammer] entirely about the vacuum that we're creating in the Middle East, about withdrawal, about the sense that Obama has created that we're not going to meddle in Middle Eastern affairs when there's freedom on the march, and that kind of thing.”
Discussing the violence in the Middle East, Fox News contributor and Weekly Standard senior editor Stephen Hayes likewise said today that withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that Obama's doctrine of “leading from behind ... has not worked” :
HAYES: Basically, this leading from behind Obama doctrine is up in flames in the Middle East. It hasn't been effective. We've seen the effects of it, I think. The idea that the United States would be withdrawing from the region, withdrawing from Afghanistan, withdrawing from Iraq, lessening our footprint, doing everything we can to take sort of a step back suggests that this has not worked.
Krauthammer, Goldberg, and Hayes have created a narrative in which it is difficult to imagine an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- wars of which all three were longtime supporters. They accused the administration of pursuing a dangerous policy of disengagement in the Middle East by withdrawing from those two countries, but made no effort to explain when it would have been an appropriate time to withdraw. That they were unable or unwilling to provide such an explanation is evidence that the disengagement narrative is bogus, and nothing more than an attempt to portray the administration as favoring a weak foreign policy.
Of course, it's hardly surprising that conservative media would point to Iraq and Afghanistan to accuse the administration of disengagement. In 2011, conservative commentators reacted to Obama's announcement that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year by voicing disapproval and a desire to remain in that country for decades, even though the central justification for the war -- Iraq's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction -- was discredited years earlier.