By Jeff Bergner
In his speech to the nation on Afghanistan, President Donald Trump lamented the hand he had been dealt by his predecessor. He was right about that — just as President Barack Obama was right to lament the hand that he had been dealt by his predecessor. Presidents must play the cards they are given.
But as the world that Trump confronts seems increasingly overrun with hot spots and potential crises, one other fact is worth noting. In virtually every case, Obama left these simmering crises worse when he left office than they were when he arrived.
In Iraq, Obama was actually dealt a decent hand. The political and economic situation there was stable and improving. In withdrawing American forces, he allowed the country to spin out of control and slide into near anarchy, thus enabling the rise of the Islamic State.
Though we are now on the verge of eliminating the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate, Islamic State-inspired terror will be with us for many years to come.
In Syria, Obama stood by as the country descended into hell, President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, 400,000 people were killed, millions were made homeless and Syrian and Iraqi chaos contributed to Europe’s burgeoning refugee problem.
Despite Obama’s attempts to placate the mullahs in Iran, that country’s government-sponsored terrorism extended its reach. Iranian influence now reaches all the way to the Mediterranean.
In Lebanon, courtesy of Iranian supplies, Hezbollah has armed itself to the teeth in anticipation of the next round of conflict with Israel.
Russian expansionism did not begin on Obama’s watch, but it took a great leap forward. Russia annexed portions of Ukraine — which it solemnly agreed not to do in a 1994 agreement that included the United States — and it continues to undermine the legitimately elected government of Ukraine with threats, sabotage and violence.
In recent years, China has extended its exaggerated territorial claims far into the South China Sea and has systematically built up its military presence there to defend those claims.
During the past two decades, North Korea has continued to develop without meaningful opposition its nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missile program and its plans to marry the two.
And in our own hemisphere, the Chavez and Maduro regimes have continued — with the help of the Cuban military and secret police — their slow march toward tyranny and the ruination of the once-prosperous Venezuelan people.
Perhaps no Obama policy was more cynical than his Afghanistan policy. After a half-hearted attempt to defeat the Taliban — in which Obama announced the departure schedule for American troops before they had even arrived — Obama maintained just enough U.S. troops there to ensure that the Afghan government did not collapse on his watch. Nothing more, nothing less.
Most U.S. combat fatalities in the 16-year Afghan war occurred during Obama’s tenure. Of the 2,300 Americans killed since 2001, more than 1,500 were killed in Obama’s first term alone.
Obama has a reputation, one well-deserved, as cool and unflappable. It is easier to be cool and unflappable when one observes world hot spots as an armchair analyst rather than as a president who is actually trying to address them.
None of these problems popped up unexpectedly. Each developed for years during the Obama presidency. With the possible exception of his Cuba policy — the first fruits of which have been disappointing — it is hard to think of a single problem area in the world that did not become worse during his two terms.
It is unclear whether Trump’s plan will succeed in Afghanistan. If it does, it will do so because of long overdue toughness toward our erstwhile friend and ally Pakistan.
But at last Obama will get his wish; the media will help to ensure that Afghanistan will now be Trump’s war. One can hope the plan succeeds. And one can fairly hope that, when Trump’s time in office expires, he — unlike his predecessor — will leave the world better off than when he found it.
Jeff Bergner served in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. He lives in Norfolk, Va., and wrote this for The Virginian-Pilot. Send comments to email@example.com.