The hostage situation in Algeria ended disastrously. The Post reports: “Algerian forces launched a final assault Saturday against Islamist militants holding foreign hostages at a desert energy complex, resulting in the deaths of 11 kidnappers and their seven remaining captives, according to Algerian and French news reports.”

Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, John Brennan
President Barack Obama and his nominee for defense secretary, former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

As we saw with the murder of four Americans in Libya, the administration might well take no action against the terror groups responsible for the deaths. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta could only mouth platitudes. (“As he has since the outbreak of the Algeria crisis, Panetta reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to go after terrorists. But he gave no specifics about how it intended to respond to the hostage-taking, or more broadly against the threat of terrorism in Mali and elsewhere in North Africa.”)

We should not blame Panetta; we have no policy in the region or elsewhere for combating jihadists. We match inaction with wishful thinking, bluster with empty threats. The Post also reports:

For months, U.S. officials have intensively lobbied Algeria — whose military is by far the strongest in North Africa — to help intervene in next-door Mali, where jihadists and other rebels have established a well-defended base of operations. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other high-ranking U.S. officials made repeated visits to Algiers in the fall in a bid to persuade the oil-rich country to contribute troops to a U.N.-backed military force in Mali.

 

But Algeria’s unilateral decision to attack kidnappers at a natural gas plant — while shunning outside help, imposing a virtual information blackout and disregarding international pleas for caution — has dampened hopes that it might cooperate militarily in Mali, U.S. officials said. The crisis has strained ties between Algiers and Washington and increased doubts about whether Algeria can be relied upon to work regionally to dismantle al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa.

Are they kidding? Algeria, a corrupt and despotic authoritarian regime that harbors the violent separatist Polisario Front (increasing intermingled with al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb) is supposed to the answer to our North African policy? This is leading from way, way behind. It is especially bizarre given, as Eli Lake reports, that ” in general, distrust has been a hallmark of the strained relationship between the U.S. and Algeria. Under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian military has never agreed to the large kinds of defense aid packages other North African allies like Morocco and Egypt accepted. Known as foreign military financing, these kinds of grants can theoretically give the U.S. leverage over—and insight into—foreign militaries.”

The emptiness of our national security policy is reflected, among other places, in the administration’s apparently willingness to endure “devastating” military cuts unrelated to the threats we face. What military justification is there for the giant cuts? What will we need to confront the metastasizing threat of AQIM? These questions don’t seem to even be on the radar.

There is also the issue of the president’s own accountability. He has never been subjected to detailed questioning on Libya, nor has anyone from the White House senior staff. We don’t know what role if any staffers had in the Libya fiasco or anything about the extent of their policy planning. We don’t know if the president is as engaged as he should be and briefed as he must be to formulate appropriate responses and long-term policy solutions. When do the White House and the president specifically get their review, and who will render recommendations for them to improve in the next crisis and the crisis after that?

We have no national security policy for al-Qaeda because we have a president who looks upon national security as a giant distraction from his extravagant domestic ambitions. His first obligation, to protect the country as commander in chief, gets short shrift. The second term Cabinet officials and senior advisers lack the gravitas and the influence to redirect the president and to help create a national security policy that is properly funded and coherent. The country will be less safe and the world less free, secure and democratic as a result.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.