Obama’s Middle East abdication

David Ignatius shows how Obama administration policy towards Libya fits a familiar pattern of unwillingness to support anti-jihadist forces and governments in the Middle East:

For a case study of why America’s influence has receded in the Middle East, consider the example of Libya. Some simple steps over the past two years might have limited the country’s descent toward anarchy. . . .

When Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited Washington in March, he made a straightforward request: He needed U.S. help in training a “general-purpose force” that could protect officials of the democratically elected government and safeguard Libya’s basic services.

In response, Ignatius continues, the President Obama approved, “in principle,” a plan to train 6,000 to 8,000 Libyans outside the country. But in the intervening seven months it has not conducted such training. And according to Ignatius, U.S. officials say the training won’t start until next spring at the earliest.

Meanwhile, says Ignatius, Libya’s government is nearly defenseless. Indeed, Prime Minister Zeidan was recently kidnapped by militiamen who released him only because they didn’t want to fight other militias for control of their hostage. That’s a pretty good definition of anarchy.

Even NATO is alarmed. It is said to be considering whether to send in a force to keep order until the U.S. finally gets around (perhaps) to training a Libyan force.

Remarkably, but not surprisingly, Ignatius places most of the blame for Obama’s failure on Republicans:

The GOP has staged more than a year of near-hysterical attacks about alleged failures and coverups involving the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. compound in Benghazi that left four Americans dead. The relentless GOP sniping and second-guessing had the inevitable consequence: Nobody wanted to risk another Benghazi; U.S. diplomats hunkered down at the embassy in Tripoli; and Libya policy went in the deep freeze.

Ignatius thus attributes to Team Obama the view that it cannot formulate or conduct a Libya policy without risking another Benghazi. I share the administration’s supposed low self-assessment.

But Benghazi was preventable. So instead of putting Libya policy into “deep freeze, a responsible administration would have designed a policy that, among things, is forceful enough to prevent U.S. diplomats from having to “hunker down at the embassy.” After all, FDR didn’t put Japan policy into deep freeze to avoid the risk of another Pearl Harbor.

In any event, Republicans clearly are not responsible for Obama’s failure to provide training for a Libyan security force. “Deep freeze” or not, Obama offered the training. He has simply not followed through with it.

Obama’s failure materially to assist non-jihadist forces in Libya mirrors the same failure in Syria. There, Obama promised, among other things, to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army, a non-jihadist alternative to both Assad/Hezbollah/Iran and forces aligned with or sympathetic to al Qaeda.

Obama has not delivered. Instead, he cut the legs out from under the Free Syrian Army by first promising to attack Assad’s military capability and then opting instead to work with Assad and his Moscow backers. With the credibility of the U.S. and, by association, the Free Syrian Army in tatters, the latter may now be a spent force.

Here, Republicans actually do deserve some of the blame, having failed to support Obama during the period during which he finally roused himself (seemingly) to act. But for more than two years before that period, Obama failed meaningfully to back the Free Syrian Army, just as he now fails meaningfully to back the Libyan government. This failure is down to Obama, not to Republicans.

As events in the Middle East spiral out of control, Obama is mostly sidelining the U.S. Indifferent about the inroads anti-U.S., Islamic jihadists are making throughout the region, our president is unwilling to take even small actions on behalf of forces who oppose these jihadists. Consequently, this opposition too is increasingly sidelined.

I consider this the worst abdication by an American president of U.S. interests and values in my lifetime. I suspect one would have to go back to James Buchanan to find worse.

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