Remember the slogan “These colors don’t run,” captioning the American flag?
Neither does al Qaeda.
Why should they? They’ve just won. They have forced us out of Benghazi. It did take multiple attacks over several months, and the gruesome torture and murder of our ambassador, to edge us out. But the job is done now. We’re running scared.
Instead of sticking with our commitment to a new Libya, one in which Americans have friendship and influence – one in which we can walk free, and so can Libyans – we have closed our post in Benghazi and drawn down our embassy staff in Tripoli to “essential” personnel only. It will be of some interest to see how long it takes al Qaeda or other terrorist savages to attack us in Tripoli.
Congressman Darrell Issa revealed yesterday, in a letter to Hillary Clinton, that U.S. officials said they had asked earlier this year for more security protection at the U.S mission posts in Libya – and been denied.
This data point isn’t really a bombshell, so much as a confirmation of the theory that the Obama administration wanted to avoid putting too much obtrusive U.S. security into Libya. Fans of Dinesh D’Souza’s theory about Obama and anti-colonialism would attribute such a determination to the theory’s implications (e.g., about the offensiveness of the “West” in the former-colonial world). And for those who dislike the D’Souza theory, or at least consider it overreaching or irrelevant, the question is: what theory about Obama and his advisors does explain the decision not to adequately protect a US diplomatic mission? What could motivate a president and his staff to dismiss the security concerns expressed by the president’s own representatives in Libya?
It’s worth pointing out that Obama’s entire approach to Libya has guaranteed that the country will not unify quickly around a strong, America-friendly central government. “Leading from behind” gave terrorists months to gather in war-torn Libya in 2011; refraining from wielding US influence has left them plenty of latitude on Libyan soil in 2012. The Islamist terrorists have no reason to respect America or be wary of what we might do, because under Obama, we don’t do anything.
Well, that’s not entirely true. We do encourage the arming of poorly vetted militant groups, as we have done in Libya and Syria. Every now and then we make a Delphic pronouncement about a regional development – Egypt, Libya, Syria – taking care not to seem to have any particular outcome or alternative in mind. However the American audience sees these activities, regional jihadists see them as signs of detachment, cynicism, and weakness.
In this context, a conscious policy of poor security at a diplomatic post appears more than self-effacing. It is self-abnegating. It’s like wearing a “Hit me!” sign.
We’ve had embassies hit before, embassies that weren’t necessarily wearing “Hit me!” signs. The U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 come to mind, and of course the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. (Others will remember Saigon in 1975 as well.) We didn’t withdraw from our posts in Kenya and Tanzania. We showed determination, we rebuilt, we were back in force with even better security.
We did withdraw from Iran, with which we have not had diplomatic relations for 33 years. In the wake of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983 – mounted by Hezbollah, the Iran-sponsored terror group – we pulled our Marines out of Lebanon. This latter case is similar to the Benghazi withdrawal, because the U.S. Marines in Lebanon were assigned an unexecutable mission with rules of engagement that made them sitting ducks. But it is also different from the current Libyan situation, in that there was no valid reason for us to have Marines in Lebanon in 1983, whereas sound policy in 2012 would indeed have the United States robustly and sustainably represented – diplomatically, and with good security – in Libya.
As we learned with Iran, losing an ally is likely to mean having to amp up our regional military posture. We met the challenge of revolutionary Iran with a dramatic expansion of U.S. military presence in and around the Persian Gulf. The military option is always more expensive, but our security demands it, now interlinked as it is with the dynamics of even distant regional situations.
We can hope we have not lost the possibility of an America-friendly Libya, but we will have to change our policy to keep the hope alive. Libya has a long coastline on the central Mediterranean Sea – a chokepoint whose vulnerabilities we have not had to think about much since World War II. The last time we did, in the late 1980s, Muammar Qadhafi was firing missiles at Sicily and challenging US and NATO forces with fighter jets.
The Libyan coast is a few hours’ ferry ride from Italy. It takes a bit longer to get to France or Greece. Typical intermediate-range missiles launched from Libya could reach most of Europe; small aircraft or speedboats from anywhere along the Libyan coast could wreak havoc with international shipping. Libya’s geography makes her politics significant. If the nation is not unified and effectively controlled by a central government with moderate tendencies and aspirations, Libya can quickly become a real regional headache.
If the terrorists at work in Libya were more wary of U.S. power, they would at least be more circumspect. But they are losing their wariness. They won’t stop pushing. Either we change our policy – and ideally, our president – or this keeps getting worse.
Visit J.E. Dyer’s blog, the Optimistic Conservative.
About the Author: J.E. Dyer is a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served around the world, afloat and ashore, from 1983 to 2004.
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