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A security vacuum in Obama inaugural address

Obama's inaugural address included noble aspirations of how to achieve world peace, but they don't match today's reality. In the Middle East and North Africa, in countries such as Syria and Mali, the US has failed to lead. This leaves a vacuum for extremists to fill. 

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A Malian soldier salvages a mattress inside a military camp used by radical Islamists and bombarded by French warplanes in Diabaly, Mali Jan. 21. Op-ed contributor Kurt Volker writes:'Moderates and reformers in [the Middle East and North Africa] need far more substantial assistance from Western democracies in maintaining security and delivering on democratic and economic reform.'

Jerome Delay/AP

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In his second inaugural address, President Obama offered these thoughts on winding down an age of conflict: “Enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” And, he continued, “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”

These are noble aspirations, and one is drawn to sympathize with them. But do they really fit the world we live in today? The assumptions behind these sentiments seem to be (a) that the United States has differences with other nations and chooses to resolve them either by force or by peaceful means; (b) other nations view the US with suspicion and fear, which we should dispel; and (c) that if the US does not engage in perpetual warfare, there will be peace. 

In the world of 2013, such assumptions sound off-key. Today’s conflicts have little to do with American differences with other nations, or fear and suspicion of the US. For example, the conflict in Syria – where the US has studiously avoided engagement – is driven by a despot willing to kill more than 60,000 of his own citizens (and counting) in order to cling to power. Those citizens seek to protect themselves, fight back, and topple the dictator, yet they receive little US or Western support. 

Similarly, the war in Afghanistan is internally focused. It started because Al Qaeda used Afghan territory to plot the 9/11 attacks, but today's conflict is based on the Taliban seeking to overthrow the Afghan Constitution and the elected government in order to re-impose their own harsh rule. US engagement is aimed at helping Afghan authorities become strong enough to fend off continued attacks from the Taliban and stand on their own (and thus prevent terrorists from again using it as a launchpad).

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