Obama can't control events in the Middle East

Gunmen patrol during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, Iraq,  Jan. 5, 2014.
Gunmen patrol during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, Iraq,  Jan. 5, 2014.
In recent weeks, there's been brutal violence throughout the Middle East, with "bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria." It was simply inevitable that the usual suspects would start pointing fingers at the White House.

As the Iraqi army and al Qaeda-linked militants battle for control of the city of Falluja, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are slamming the Obama administration for its Iraq policy. More than two years after the administration failed to reach a status of forces agreement with Iraq and withdrew all American combat troops from the country, the two senior Republican senators are blaming President Barack Obama for the violence erupting there this week.

McCain and Graham said in a statement, "While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the administration cannot escape its share of the blame." Specifically, they complained about the withdrawal of "all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011," when a sovereign foreign nation asked us to leave.
What's more, the senators blamed the Obama administration for Syria's civil war -- a lengthy Politico piece last week raised largely the same argument -- while the New York Times ran a report over the weekend suggesting the Obama administration also shares responsibility for recent violence in Beirut.
Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser, reminded the NYT of the administration's record of engagement and successes in the region, but noted an uncomfortable truth: "It's not in America's interests to have troops in the middle of every conflict in the Middle East, or to be permanently involved in open-ended wars in the Middle East."
McCain and Graham obviously disagree, as does much of the Beltway establishment. There's a degree of top-line foreign policy analysis that seems to dominate the debate: there's a wave of violence rocking the region; Obama's the president of the United States; the United States helps dictate events in the Middle East; ergo Obama deserves the blame for the bloodshed.
But what the last several years should have made clear is that U.S. officials cannot control developments throughout the region -- and when they try, the results can be catastrophic.
Indeed, one of the common threads connecting much of the recent criticism of the administration is the vague suggestion that the president should do ... something. What? That's less clear, though invasions are presumably part of the critics' intended solution.
McCain and Graham, for example, insisted that the administration "must recognize the failure of its policies in the Middle East and change course." And what should the new course be? The Republican senators are looking for more "engagement," their statement said.
To know McCain and Graham is to know they've never seen a country or a conflict that couldn't be improved by the presence of U.S. troops. Their complaints about Iraq are as predictable as the sunrise -- Iraq is struggling through sectarian conflicts, which just goes to show that an indefinite role for the U.S. military in the country, whether Iraq likes it or not, is what's needed. It's hardly a stretch to think Obama's critics would recommend a similar course for Lebanon and Syria, among other countries.
It's a reminder that when it comes to the last decade, not everyone has learned the same lessons.