Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discuss President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Phil: Are you as troubled as I am by what we are seeing unfold in response to Obama’s mishandling of radical Islamist extremists?

Ethan: You make it sound like the spread of ISIS is somehow Obama’s fault.

Phil: Well, he did call it a “JV team.” Maybe an earlier willingness to see its potential terror could have helped stem its spread.

Ethan: Perhaps, but an even better understanding would have been for George W. Bush to not destabilize the region 12 years ago with his misguided and discredited invasion of Iraq.

Phil: Please don’t tell me you too have been diagnosed with Bush Derangement Syndrome?

Ethan: The medical community has named a mental health syndrome after our 43rd president? Seems appropriate. Anytime someone takes action that is ill-conceived, ineffective and inspires a generation to take revenge against America should now be diagnosed with “BDS.” I wish the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders had diagnosed this back in 2003 and provided a pill.

Phil: By that diagnosis, I nominate Obama. In his first inaugural, he proclaimed he would convince Islamists to “unclench their fists.” And who can forget Vice President Joe Biden’s declaration that the “Arab Spring” had begun when Egypt dissolved its parliament?

Ethan: Obama declared he would work to “unclench their fists” through dialogue and economic influence. And Biden, as did many, saw the hope of self-realized democracy in a region in turmoil. I will concede, Obama’s policy of building those bridges is not yet bearing the universal fruit we hope for, but that should still be the ultimate goal. And perhaps the Arab spring will still bear fruit. After all, it took America a decade to create our democracy and we’re still perfecting it almost 250 years later.

Phil: Seems to me, it’s time to face the facts and address the reality created by Obama’s ill-conceived and ineffective policy.

Ethan: What exactly are the “ill-conceived and ineffective policies” about which you speak?

Phil: His hasty exit from Iraq leaving ISIS to ferment and his continued disengagement while a string of tell-tale signs rose throughout the region.

Ethan: Obama’s exit from Iraq wasn’t the problem, it was Bush’s entry.

Phil: When ISIS burned alive a Jordanian pilot, King Abdullah II came down with brutal force. ISIS already has sustained terrific damage, and Jordan shows no signs of letting up. Obama needs to understand who we are dealing with and have the courage to flex the military muscle needed.

Ethan: We aren’t a dictatorship and that decision should be left to Congress (I am glad Obama has asked for its authority). But more importantly, we have to face the fact that loading our soldiers onto planes to invade the Middle East isn’t working. The solution is going to take patience and persistence. Obama is talking with Muslim leaders through back channel diplomacy and met in private with 14 Muslim leaders as recent as last week.

Phil: Don’t you think Obama would address the nation and divulge his actions to deal with this inhumanity if Christians beheaded or burned alive 20 people because of their religious faith?

Ethan: I hope you aren’t insinuating that Obama isn’t addressing this issue because the terrorists claim to be Muslim, but that he would take action if they claimed to be Christian?

Phil: I am not. I am merely trying to paint an analogy that might bring this closer to home if his own religion was acting in such a manner.

Ethan: I think he fully understands the parallels. He gave a beautiful speech to that effect just a couple of weeks ago. The perversion of religion has been used to justify massacre during the Crusades in the Middle Ages of Europe, to justify slavery and lynching for three centuries in America and now to justify terrorism in the 21st century Middle East.

Phil: I think it is dangerous to compare and contrast any of these historical abominations. Each was distinct and each had to be confronted in specific distinct manners. Most especially crusaders of yesteryear have changed dramatically compared to today, jihadists have not.

Ethan: The point was that religion gets perverted all the time, and today is no different. Muslims are not murderous. Muslims who pervert Islam are. Although Obama doesn’t consult me on these matters (just his March Madness picks), I suspect he is trying to deflate the tension by creating historical context and figuring out who actually has influence over a minute number of terrorists.

Phil: I also think the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress is so telling about how Obama’s lack of clarity or action is causing Israel to believe its very existence has never been more vulnerable.

Ethan: Oh man, did you have to bring the Bibi/Boehner mess into this? You know as well as I do that if former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had invited a foreign leader to speak to Congress against the wishes and without notification to Bush and Dick Cheney, thereby jeopardizing national security negotiations, you would be screaming bloody murder.

Phil: If Bush and Cheney had been as impotent as Obama, I would have been screaming for Nancy to bring in more leaders. These branches of government are equal and therefore each must do what they must to protect our nation. Netanyahu will offer much for them to understand about terrorism and how to confront it.

Ethan: Then members of Congress can go to hear the speech he is giving to AIPAC the same week. I am sure some chicken dinners are still available for any member that wishes to attend.

Phil: It is not chicken dinners I am worried about, it is the Democratic chicken hawks we have to wake up.

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.


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