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October 25th, 2014

Insight

Obama has reached his Jimma Carter moment

Martin Schram

By Martin Schram

Published August 14, 2014

Obama has reached his Jimma Carter moment

Belatedly — but, we hope, finally! — we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the Carterization of Barack Obama's presidency.

It has come not a moment too soon. We can only hope that it is real and not too late.

President Obama is scrambling to halt a new genocide in which suddenly powerful Sunni Islamist fanatics are slaughtering victims simply because they are Christians or non-Muslim Yazidi sect members. And the reality of that led Obama to give at least two orders this month he probably thought he'd never give.

First, the president who proudly boasted that he'd withdrawn the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq reluctantly ordered U.S. warplanes back into the skies over northern Iraq. Their mission: bomb rampaging, genocide-bent Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (known as ISIS) that had taken over strongholds of Iraq's pro-western Kurds. Thousands of terrified families had fled and were trapped on Mount Sinjar. Some 100 U.S. civilian staff and military guards at the U.S. consulate in Erbil were also in danger.

Obama's announcement caused his perpetual critics the discomfort of actually liking something he'd done. But of course Washington's politicians of the left, center and right, always quick to cover their aspirations, hastened to proclaim themselves absolutely and irrevocably against ever again putting American "boots on the ground" in Iraq.

Yet, in the real world, commanders-in-chief eventually learn there are consequences for failing to do a job done when lives of women and children are at stake. So, while echoing the refrain of "no boots on the ground," Obama gave his second order: He dispatched 130 U.S. military "advisers" into Iraq to come up with a way of rescuing those potential victims of the ISIS genocide.

Now, all who chronicle these events know the code: sending modest numbers of advisers often means many more may soon follow — to assure an ISIS genocide of non-Muslims can be thwarted. If those U.S. military advisers get the job done, history may never remember if they hit the ground wearing wing-tips, tassel loafers, hush-puppies or even house-slippers.

What Obama's military rescue mission shows is that yet another commander-in-chief has bowed to the reality that he cannot make good outcomes happen just by uttering wishful words. A surprised and disapproving world took Obama's measure back when he confidently assured the planet Syria's President Bashar al-Assad would soon be gone, then famously drew his "red line" against Assad's use of chemical weapons, but took no military action after Syria used them - and failed to even send vital weapons to Syria's moderate rebels who desperately needed them.

Obama's national security A-Team — Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, and Gen. David Petraeus — all recommended arming Syria's most trusted rebel factions. We learned that from Clinton's new book, "Hard Choices."

Predictably, the moderate rebel factions floundered without weapons; and ISIS raced in to fill the vacuum. Pathetically, ISIS today is excellently armed — with U.S. weapons they simply picked up when Iraqi soldiers fled and dropped the arms America gave them.

Unfortunately, few world figures today are willing to boldly lead, simply because it's the right thing to do. Earlier this year, the world had warnings of ISIS' genocidal bent. News reported ISIS troops demanded Arab Christians convert to Islam or be killed. But the stories were often buried. World leaders shrugged and went about their daily grinds. Even when Pope Francis condemned ISIS actions a month ago after the rebels captured the city of Mosel and Christians fled. Seven decades after the Nazi Holocaust, the world's news deciders seem to have forgotten the ecumenical lesson of "Never Again!"

Now we are racing back into Iraq. Racing to save non-Muslim Arabs from being victims of a genocide we knew was about to happen but never cared enough to wake up the world and make it care.

We are racing urgently back, with no great plan in hand, because now we cannot permit Iraq to disintegrate into global jihad's next haven.

While the world gets it when we talk about a president's Carterization — it's Jimmy Carter's image as a flawed leader swept along by events — there is a larger lesson the world overlooks.

While Jimmy Carter indeed seemed powerless after Iranian revolutionaries held his U.S. embassy staff in Iran hostage, Carter also accomplished one of the boldest leadership achievements of any president. Carter's Camp David summit and his unscripted personal shuttle diplomacy produced an Israeli-Egyptian peace that endures in that tumultuous region.

A bold, courageous personal presidential involvement — a roll up your sleeves and quit fretting about legacy images effort — may once again be what that exploding region and the world need right now.

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Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.

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