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TOUGH ACT

If there ever was an anti-climactic moment in the recent history of American foreign policy, it has perhaps come with the sanctioning of airstrikes in Iraq by the Barack Obama administration. The Republicans have panned it for being “almost worse than nothing”, but their disappointment is understandable. Limited airstrikes can never match the grand show once afforded by US Patriot missiles chasing Scuds or US troops smoking out enemies such as Saddam Hussein. Always having derided the US pullout from Iraq, they see Obama’s action as a damp squib. But the Democrats too seem unsure. They perhaps realize that the US desperation to prevent a recurrence of a Benghazi-like attack in Arbil and its urgency to secure one of the richest oil sources in Kurdish territory that engages the biggest US corporate enterprises could not be entirely cloaked by the US’s proffered excuse of preventing the genocide of Yazidis and Christian minorities. They also realize that America’s sudden waking up to the humanitarian cause sounds a trifle lame in the face of what it has allowed to happen in Syria, where hundreds of thousands have died because of what they believe to be Mr Obama’s refusal to arm the moderate rebels in time. So, while the US president takes a short vacation, many of them have gone to town decrying his foreign policy that seemed perfectly reasonable during the time of Mr Obama’s re-election.

Mr Obama’s problem is that the storm over the inefficacy of his foreign policy — a major reason behind his entry into and sustained stay at the White House — may gather force in no time. For one, Mr Obama can stay true to his promise of limited engagement in Iraq only if he arms the Kurds, a proposition whose spinoff may land the US in more trouble. Apart from displeasing politicians at home and the US’s Arab allies, who may not take kindly to the arming of Kurds where Syrian rebels have been denied a similar advantage, such a move could spur Kurdish separatism, thereby further unsettling Iraq, Turkey and the surrounding region. Then there will be the problem of explaining the principle behind US interventionism or the Obama doctrine to the world. What denies Iraq the pleasure of witnessing the full force of US’s airpower when Libya could have it? And why try to protect the Yazidis unilaterally when no such sentiment is spared for the Gazans?