Conspicuously absent from the current presidential campaign is any serious discussion of foreign policy and America's role in the world.
This is a problem. When Barack Obama was elected, the United States was in the middle of two wars that were the defining issues of the 2008 campaign. Mostly unpopular here at home, the electorate wanted them over, having largely forgotten the reason America got in to them in the first place.
Obama deserves some small measure of credit for planning for an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, but only time will tell whether it will mark the end of these wars or the beginning of a whole new phase, one that will undoubtedly be influenced heavily by Iran.
For the most part, Obama has been asleep at the switch when it comes to what is happening in the Middle East. It is as though recent events in the Gulf region have come as something as a surprise to his administration, which was clearly not prepared for them. When U.S. activity overseas makes news of late it's usually related to sensitive information leaking out of the White House that somehow embellish the president's image as a "tough guy." Otherwise there seems to be no plan, no overall vision, and no direction—which is a dangerous way for the world's lone nuclear superpower to behave.
This is particularly important where Iran, which has been at war with the United States since 1979, is concerned. This one nation has done more to destabilize the international system than any other over the last several decades through its support for terrorism, terrorist groups, and its efforts against America—which its leaders still regard as "The Great Satan."
Remember that in 2008, candidate Obama made an offer to sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "without preconditions"—an offer that was withdrawn when people began to speculate on the ramifications of such a meeting. Nevertheless, the offer itself was an indication that the president does not understand Iran and does not take it seriously as a threat to U.S. interests.
Ahmadinejad has for years been clear about his intentions. He reiterated them again in a recent speech in which he, according to The Jerusalem Post, "said the ultimate goal of world forces must be the annihilation of Israel."
If there were ever anything that would trigger World War III it would be an effort to annihilate Israel because there is no possible way the United States could avoid coming to the defense of its strongest ally in the region. Even Ahmadinejad understands this, saying in this particular speech—which is little more than an attack on the Jewish people—"They are the decision makers, to the extent that the presidential election hopefuls [of the United States] must go and kiss the feet of the Zionists to ensure their election victory."
The Iranian president knows what he is doing and saying—even if the current U.S. president doesn't. It's not be the first time a U.S. leader chose to turn a blind eye to what was clearly developing before him but, with the stakes as high as they are as Iran pursues nuclear weapons, it could be the last. Obama has already shown himself to be something other than a friend of Israel. His neglect of the region, and of Iran's intentions, may make him something less than a friend of the United States as well.