WASHINGTON -- In 1794, during George Washington's second term as president, Congress finally got around to appropriating funds to build six wooden-hulled frigates that were "sufficiently armed" to protect American shipping from pirates and fast enough to evade British and French "ships of the line." It wasn't enough. America needed an expeditionary force in readiness. It still does.
Just a decade after our first fleet was built, President Thomas Jefferson had to beg Congress for funds to deploy ships, sailors and Marines in adequate numbers to force pirates from Tripoli -- the present-day capital of Libya -- to stop them from seizing American merchant vessels and enslaving their crews. Now President Barack Obama faces a similar quandary -- too few ships and troops to protect American citizens and interests -- off the same coastline.
Ever since civil dissent began in North Africa late last year and spread throughout the Middle East, the O-Team's response has been fraught with indifference and uncertainty. It completely ignored Lebanese pleas for support against Hezbollah, which took over the government in Beirut. Obama offered the Iranian opposition movement no encouragement whatsoever. It wasn't until Jan. 14, when Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was fleeing Tunisia for exile in Saudi Arabia, that our president finally decided the despot's departure was a good thing. Then it took nearly three weeks of increasingly violent protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square for the administration to decide whether it liked Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak or not. It finally decided a military coup would be a good thing.
Now, with bloody rebellions in Bahrain and Yemen and Libya on the brink of civil war, the Obama administration appears stunned at how few options it has available. Last week, as tens of thousands of Libyans and foreign workers were attempting to escape the chaos for refuge in Egypt, Tunisia and Malta, Obama couldn't even mention the name of the dictator who had provoked the violence, Moammar Gadhafi. On Tuesday, the administration moved "boldly" in the United Nations to have Libya removed from the Human Rights Council -- and then turned over national security policy to 535 members of Congress.
Since then, the O-Team has been defending its "no policy is good policy" position before the Senate Armed Services, Senate Foreign Relations, House Armed Services, House Appropriations and House Foreign Affairs committees. The absence of coherence is evident even to the president's supporters.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.