Updated: January 15, 2013 11:27AM
A constant theme of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign was that the tide of war was receding. Maybe that’s true in the narrow sense of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but the world remains in turmoil, and old threats to American security remain while new ones emerge.
The newest one, though it’s obviously been coming for years, was North Korea’s successful launch of a rocket into space orbit Wednesday. This was in reality a test of an intercontinental missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to America’s West Coast. The only good news is that the regime of Kim Jong Un doesn’t have a nuclear device small enough to fit atop the missile, but its scientists are working on that.
The bad news, as if the launch itself wasn’t bad enough, is that Pyongyang is a notorious weapons proliferator. It has been caught smuggling arms to Iran, Syria and Myanmar. And published reports indicated Iranians were present at the launch. Iran of course is hard at work developing its own nuclear weapons and its own array of short-, medium- and long-range missiles, an effort long thought to be aided by North Korea.
An old threat is al-Qaida in particular and the broader one of fanatical Islamism. Obama claimed during the campaign that al-Qaida was on the run — or at least he did until it became obvious that one of its affiliates was responsible for the murder of an U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya in a terrorist attack on Sept. 11.
What’s more, al-Qaida fighters have emerged as perhaps the most effective fighting force in the rebellion against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Just the other day the State Department declared the Nusra Front a terrorist organization. That came as Obama endorsed the Friends of Syria, the umbrella group for the rebels, prompting more than 100 countries to add their political recognition.
But political support brought no military aid to the rebels. That was why opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib called for Washington to rescind the terrorist designation for the Nusra Front. As one rebel spokesman put it, Nusra “defends civilians in Syria, whereas America didn’t do anything.” It looks increasingly like West-hating Islamists will play a major role in post-Assad Syria.
Leading from behind has its drawbacks.
Nusra, depending upon the source, is either an ally of or another name for al-Qaida in Iraq. This was the bloody outfit fought to virtual extinction by President George W. Bush’s military surge only to rebound after Obama essentially washed his hands of Iraq by failing to negotiate a continued U.S. troop presence there. It’s no coincidence that Iraq had allowed Iranian planes to fly through its airspace to carry arms to Assad. That’s not a good result for the Iraq war.
Ascendancy of Islamists in Syria would come as they tighten their sway in Egypt. A new constitution written by the Muslim Brotherhood and enshrining religious principles is all but certain to be affirmed in a referendum starting this weekend despite ferocious opposition from secular and liberal Egyptians.
Islamists already control Turkey, which has swiftly moved from a pro-West stance, most notably in increasingly hostile rhetoric and policies against Israel, once an ally.
Add the still uncertain outcome of the Afghan war, the failure of Obama’s Russia “reset” and China’s aggressive strategy in the western Pacific, and the campaign boast of a receding tide ignores challenges to U.S. security interests rising and multiplying around the globe.