When conservatives criticize the Obama administration over the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks, much of the attention is trained on the security failures preceding the raid, the dishonest public spin campaign after the fact, the lack of accountability nearly two years later, and the still-unanswered questions on a host of fronts. But that lethal event was merely a symptom of the White House's broader, unraveling foreign policy. The president intervened in Libya in 2011, deploying US military resources to help a rebel fighting force depose and dispatch murderous dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The Libya conflict was paradigmatic of Obama's approach to war: 'Leading from behind,' aerial bombardment, extremely light footprint. War from the air. War without Congressional approval. And war, in this case, with no clear strategic objective. The result of that conflict was, in Obama's judgment, an example of how the international "community is supposed to work," as he declared at the time. Lesson: Libya was a model of how "smart power" leads. Well, the struggle to fill the power vacuum triggered by Gaddafi's fall has raged ever since the US "won" in Libya. The victors, it appears, are many of the radical Islamists that America aided in toppling the regime. The country has been awash in hardcore radical elements, with Benghazi emerging as a Jihadi hotbed. When terrorists sacked the US compound on 2012's anniversary of 9/11, that massacre was merely the most high-profile evidence of Libya's descent into ungovernable chaos. Today, several years on, the journey to full-blown failed state status seems to be complete. Radicals have seized control of much of Libya's capital city, including the international airport, and -- as Matt noted over the weekend -- the abandoned US embassy:
As events cascaded, Obama juggled rounds of vacation golf with public statements addressing the conflicts. But his cool demeanor, and the split-screen imagery of a president at play and at work, seemed ill-matched to the moment. Then came a Thursday news conference and a comment that only reinforced criticism of a president neither fully engaged nor truly leaning into world problems. Speaking of the Islamic State, he said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.” The statement may have had the virtue of candor, as Obama weighs the military and diplomatic components of a U.S. response and seeks support from other nations. But it hardly projects an image of presidential resolve or decisiveness at a time of international turmoil….events seem to have spun out of his control, and Obama must react to the actions of others. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has sparked the greatest East-West crisis since the Cold War. Islamic State advances have swallowed up a large swath of the Middle East and threaten a global upheaval far beyond the shock of al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks.
Jim Lindsay, senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Obama’s inability to inspire confidence among critics has more to do with the complexity of the problems than the president’s leadership style. “He has a sort of perfect storm of messy problems, lousy options, ambivalent allies and a skeptical public,” he said….[Historian David Kennedy] said that Obama, in dealing with multiple crises, also is trying to change perceptions of what U.S. leadership and any president can realistically accomplish. “It’s difficult virtually to the point of impossibility to have a grand strategy in a world that is so fluid and in which we no longer yield the power we once had. In a sense that is Obama’s strategy, a recognition of that fact. So that rhetorically as well as in reality, he’s trying to diminish the expectation that we can control events.”