The political media saw yesterday’s events through the prism of a presidential campaign. But in fact it was a national security development with long-term implications for U.S. foreign policy, including widespread doubt about the administration’s approach to the region and, in the short run, our decision to give more than a billion in aid to the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government of Egypt.
Today, attacks on Americans continued, evidence that our reaction yesterday did nothing to deter would-be assailants. The newest target was in Yemen. Reuters reported: “Hundreds of Yemeni demonstrators broke through the main gate of the heavily fortified compound in eastern Sanaa, shouting, ‘We sacrifice ourselves for you, Messenger of God.’ Earlier they smashed windows of security offices outside the embassy and burned cars.” Apparently, expressions of sympathy for hurt feelings was not enough to quell the anti-American sentiments of jihadists. Well, it never is, is it?
With each new attack, the foreign policy crisis deepens. The Post reports:
What President Obama on Wednesday called the “outrageous and shocking” attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya left his administration with a diplomatic crisis that threatened to undermine its long-term strategy in the Arab world.
The assault Tuesday evening on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and an earlier attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo represent the most serious challenge yet to Obama’s attempt to transform a traditionally anti-American region into one that is more trusting of U.S. intentions and can serve as a counterweight, with Israel, to Iran’s ambitions.
It was an unpleasant reminder that the Arab Spring may well be worse than what preceded it and that, contrary to the wishful thinking of liberals, the war against jihadist terror did not end with the killing of Osama bin Laden.
But the lesson Obama seems to be learning is to be less active, less willing to shape events and promote our values. (“If nothing else, the new crisis appeared likely to cement Obama’s determination not to intervene militarily in Syria.”) Leading from behind sends events spinning out of control, which begets more reluctance to lead. As a result, we have less and less influence and information about what is going on in Syria. The Wall Street Journal quotes Mitt Romney’s top foreign policy adviser, Richard Williamson, as saying, “We don’t control who gets the arms inside Syria, which gives us less leverage to dictate the future after Assad.”
As the report notes, Obama wasted a great deal of time and personal capital on failed Israeli-Palestinian talks, the collapse of which seemed to lessen the White House’s appetite for involvement in the region:
Early on in his term, Obama’s rhetoric on the illegitimacy of Israeli settlement construction on land that Palestinians view as their future state raised Arab hopes that a president who spent years of his childhood in a Muslim-majority country would be different from his predecessors.
That posture has failed to achieve results or assuage Arab ire on the Palestinian issue, while also making Israel uncomfortable and angering its powerful supporters in the United States. Most recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply criticized Obama for what he sees as the president’s failure to stand up more firmly to Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative spoke for many foreign policy critics, who for years have been fretting about Obama's unwillingness to pursue a coherent strategy in the region. He told Right Turn: “We are beginning to see the real world effects of ‘leading from behind.’ The President has been more focused on burnishing his supposed national security credentials than helping to ensure that the revolutions of the Arab Spring lead to more long-term stability and increased opportunities for the people of the region.” He also recalled the unseemly victory lap after Libyan rebels emerged victorious in the civil war. “Libya may eventually be seen as a ‘mission accomplished’ moment in which the President of the United States was more interested in declaring victory than in helping the Libyans win the peace. Now, we and they are left to pick up the pieces.”
Most immediate is the seemingly bizarre insistence on going forward with aid to the Islamist government in Egypt that failed to protect our embassy. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Obama administration is in the final stages of organizing a $1 billion package to ease the rising debt burden of Mr. Morsi’s government. The U.S. also gives Egypt $1.3 billion a year in military aid.
While the Obama administration was critical of Egypt’s response to the unrest, senior officials said Washington should continue providing assistance to the emerging governments in the Middle East, particularly Libya, because it was in Washington’s long-term interest.
I’ll take a wild guess that Congress is going to balk at handing out taxpayer dollars to the Muslim Brotherhood government. Even Obama acknowledges that he doesn’t see Egypt as an ally, or an enemy. So why give it a billion dollars, if we’re not sure?
The images of American flags burning and the deaths of Americans at the hands of jihadists will change the perception of American influence in the region in the eyes of Americans, our allies and our foes. The administration has a full-blown crisis on its hands, and as yet, there is no sign it knows what to do about it.