Walter Russell Mead
Published on July 26, 2014
A Job Well Done As Libya Implodes, “Smart Diplomacy” Becoming a
A Job Well Done As Libya Implodes, “Smart Diplomacy” Becoming a Punch Line
The United States is pulling embassy staff out of Tripoli, and has issued a travel advisory that nicely outlines what a nightmare Libya has become. If Obama were a Republican, the press coverage of this stinking corpse of a policy flub would be quite different.
The reckless and thoughtless Libya intervention just keeps looking worse. But don’t read the critics to see how horrible things are: as the government announces that the U.S. has officially evacuated its embassy in Tripoli this morning, the latest State Department travel advisory for the country says it all:
The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable. The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation. Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country. In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya. Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya. Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death. U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.
Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country and attacks by armed groups can occur in many different areas; hotels frequented by westerners have been caught in the crossfire. Armed clashes have occurred in the areas near Tripoli International Airport, Airport Road, and Swani Road. Checkpoints controlled by militias are common outside of Tripoli, and at times inside the capital. Closures or threats of closures of international airports occur regularly, whether for maintenance, labor, or security-related incidents. Along with airports, seaports and roads can close with little or no warning. U.S. citizens should closely monitor news and check with airlines to try to travel out of Libya as quickly and safely as possible.
The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain. The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament. Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities. In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational. State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.
Throw in the resulting civil war in Mali and the scattering of insurgents and weapons to the four winds, and you have a classic exhibition of reckless incompetence—of American arrogance, ignorance, carelessness and moralism combining in a toxic stew to sink a fragile country we never understood.
Luckily for America’s self-esteem, it was liberal Democrats that produced this particular shambles. If Republicans had done this, the media would be on the administration non-stop, perhaps comparing Samantha Power to Paul Wolfowitz—a well-meaning humanitarian way over her head who wrecked a country out of misguided ideology. There might also be some pointed questions for future presidential candidates who supported this fiasco. But since both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their fingerprints all over Libya, there isn’t a lot of press hunger for a detailed, unsparing autopsy into this stinking corpse of policy flub.
If Obama were a Republican, the press and the weekly news shows would be ringing with hyperbolic, apocalyptic denunciations of the clueless incumbent who had failed to learn the most basic lessons of Iraq. Indeed, the MSM right now would be howling that Obama was stupider than Bush. Bush, our Journolist friends would now be saying ad nauseam, at least had the excuse that he didn’t know what happens when you overthrow a paranoid, genocidal, economically incompetent Arab tyrant in an artificial post-colonial state. But Obama did—or, the press would nastily say, he would have done if he’d been doing his job instead of hitting the golf course or yakking it up with his glitzy pals at late night bull sessions. The ad hominem attacks would never stop, and all the tangled threads of incompetence and failure would be endlessly and expertly picked at in long New Yorker articles, NYT thumbsuckers, and chin-strokings on all the Sabbath gasbag shows.
Why, the ever-admirable tribunes of a free and unbiased press would be asking non-stop, didn’t this poor excuse for a President learn from what happened in Iraq? When you upend an insane and murderous dictator who has crushed his people for decades under an incompetent and quirky regime, you’d better realize that there is no effective state or civil society under the hard shell of dictatorial rule. Remove the dictator and you get chaos and anarchy. Wasn’t this President paying attention during the last ten years?
Some of the criticism would be exaggerated and unfair; the Monday morning quarterbacks never really understand just how complicated and tragic this poor world really is, not to mention how hard it is to make life and death decisions in real time in the center of the non-stop political firestorm that is Washington today. And the MSM attracts more than its share of deeply inexperienced but entitled, self-regarding blowhards who love to pontificate about how stupid all those poor fools who have actual jobs and responsibilities actually are.
But luckily for Team Obama, the mainstream press would rather die than subject liberal Democrats to the critiques it reserves for the GOP. So instead, as Libya writhes in agony, reputations and careers move on. The news is so bad, and the President’s foreign policy is collapsing on so many fronts, that it is impossible to keep the story off the front pages. “Smart diplomacy” has become a punch line, and the dream Team Obama had of making Democrats the go-to national security party is as dead as the passenger pigeon. But what the press can do for the White House it still, with some honorable exceptions, labors to accomplish: it will, when it must, report the dots. But it will try not to connect them, and it will do what it can to let all the people involved in the Libya debacle move on to the next and higher stage of their careers.