It is fitting that the day before President Barack Obama gives his grand West Point address defending the wisdom and prudence of his foreign policy, his government should be urging Americans to evacuate Libya.
Libya was once the model Obama intervention — the calibrated military engagement wrapped in the rhetorical extravagance of a nationally televised address proclaiming his newest foreign policy doctrine: the responsibility to protect.
You don’t hear R2P bandied about much anymore. Not with more than 50,000 civilians having been slaughtered in Syria’s civil war. Nor do you hear much about Libya, now so dangerously chaotic and jihadi-infested that the State Department is telling Americans to get out.
And you didn’t hear much of anything in the West Point speech. It was a parade of straw men, as the president applauded himself for steering the nation on a nervy middle course between extreme isolationism and madcap interventionism. It was the rhetorical equivalent of that classic national security joke in which a presidential aide, devoted to policy option X, submits the following decision memo: Option 1. All-out nuclear war. Option 2. Unilateral surrender. Option 3. Policy X.
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The isolationism of Obama’s telling is a species not to be found anywhere. Not even Sen. Rand Paul would withdraw from everywhere. And even members of Congress’ dovish left have called for sending drones to Nigeria, for God’s sake.
As for Obama’s interventionists, they are described as people “who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak” while Obama courageously refuses to believe that “every problem has a military solution.”
“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force?” Obama recently asked about Ukraine. In reality, nobody is.
That’s what the interim prime minister asked for when he visited here in March — and was denied. Two months later, military assistance was the first thing Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s newly elected president, said he wanted from the U.S. Note: not boots on the ground.
Same for Syria. It was Obama, not his critics, who went to the brink of a military strike over the use of chemical weapons. From which he then flinched. Critics have been begging Obama to help train and equip the outmanned and outgunned rebels — a policy to which he now intimates he might finally be coming around.
Three years late. Qusair, Homs and major suburbs of Damascus have already been retaken by the government. The battle has now tilted toward Assad — backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, while Obama dithered — that Assad is holding triumphal presidential elections next week.
Amid all this, Obama seems unaware of how far his country has fallen. He attributes claims of American decline to either misreading history or partisan politics. Problem is most of the complaints are coming from abroad.
What is the world to think when Obama makes the case for a residual force in Afghanistan — “after all the sacrifices we’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win” — and then announce a drawdown of American forces to 10,000, followed by total liquidation within two years on a fixed timetable regardless of circumstances?
The policy contradicts the premise. Why not let conditions dictate the post-2014 drawdowns?
The Afghan surge was ended precisely in 2012, in the middle of the fighting season but before the November election. A 2016 Afghan end date might help Democrats electorally and, occurring with Obama still in office, provide a shiny new line to his resume.
Is this how a great nation decides matters of war and peace — to help one party and polish the reputation of one man? As with the West Point speech itself, as with the president’s entire foreign policy of retreat, one can only marvel at the smallness of it all.
To reach Charles Krauthammer, send email to email@example.com.