Obama fiddles with foreign policy speeches while Libya burns

Rarely has there been a disconnect as profound as the one between President Obama’s words at his West Point commencement address, and the grim reality playing out in Libya.  There is very little reason to listen to an Obama speech – you can bet the bad actors of the world aren’t paying much attention to him – when the actual results of his foreign policy are on display.

Thus, as the President positioned himself as the wise and pragmatic alternative to an army of mythical warmongers who supposedly can’t wait to invade every country on Earth, the country he actually did invade – without pausing for legal niceties of the sort cowboy unilateralist George Bush was a stickler for – is falling apart.  More accurately, it already fell apart, and now the pieces are exploding.  And it’s all very much Barack Obama’s doing – his action, his failures, his insistence on working the American public with political spin instead of reliable information.

“The landscape has changed,” Obama assured his West Point audience.  The Americans about to evacuate Libya would agree.  Fox has the latest news, which should have been projected onto a screen behind Barack Obama as he was speaking:

The State Department Tuesday urged all U.S. citizens to immediately leave Libya due to security concerns.

The evacuation warning came shortly after the USS Bataan, with about 1,000 Marines aboard, sailed into the Mediterranean Sea to assist Americans in leaving if necessary, according to U.S. military officials. The officials made clear the ship has received no formal orders to conduct new missions.

Officials said the Navy amphibious assault ship sailed from the Arabian Sea and was already scheduled to go to the Mediterranean to participate in a multi-county military exercise in the region.

The State Department issued a statement Tuesday night saying,”The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately. 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.”

The unrest has caused the State Department to limit staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, and it is “only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Libya,” according to the release.

Who’s threatening Americans in Libya?  Don’t ask:

The statement added that “various groups” have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya, and said military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including those that are capable of attacking civilian aircraft.

The warning was issued in light of fighting taking place earlier this month in the capital of Tripoli, where renegade Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter is waging an offensive against Islamists.

Hifter began his so-called “Dignity Operation” more than 10 days ago to crush Islamist militias and their political backers.

Hifter has the support of politicians, diplomats, army units and tribes that want him to impose order and rein in the country’s unruly militias, three years after they toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Military-grade weapons capable of taking down aircraft?  Where’d the militias get those from?  Well, at least al-Qaeda is still “decimated” and “on the run,” like Obama and his shills told us during the 2012 campaign, right?  That’s why Obama and Hillary Clinton sent a U.S. ambassador into peaceful Benghazi without protection or a rescue plan.  Safe as houses!

However, the Al Qaeda-inspired group Ansar al-Shariah has now vowed to fight Hifter, whom it accuses of being an “American agent.”

Ansar al-Shariah is believed to have played a role in the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

How is a decimated terror group, on the run from Barack the Slayer with its tail between its legs, “inspiring” local franchises?  It must be one of those nuances of “smart power” that President Obama has so much trouble explaining to the Little People.

If only Libya was under attack from an army of straw men, Obama would be able to defeat them with ease.  Here’s a taste of that West Point speech today:

The president took on what he described as “interventionists” from both parties, and said that while “isolationism” is not an option, “U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance.”

The president advised that crises around the world that don’t directly threaten Americans be met first with non-military options: diplomacy, sanctions and “collective action.”

The president pointed to Syria as one battlefield where allies could work together to ease the crisis. He pledged to work with Congress to “ramp up support” for certain elements in the Syrian opposition who “offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator.”

Who’s out there calling for military action to be the only component of American leadership in every instance?  Six years later, Obama’s still running against John McCain?  But of course, by inventing some phantasmal Klingon caucus, Obama gets to make himself look like the least of all evils, which is the best someone with his foreign policy record can hope for.  You’ve got to give him a few points for being shameless enough to even mention Syria, that storybook land of invisible red lines, where the push to make American military action the primary component of leadership was emanating from the Obama White House.

Not that Obama’s heart was really in that Syrian bombing campaign.  Remember, he got backed into that by shooting his mouth off at a meaningless speech, which he briefly tried to make everyone forget about (The World drew that red line, not me!) before half-heartedly beating the war drums.  Obama tends to view every foreign policy issue as a problem to be buried under the shredded confetti of speech transcripts.  He wants the credibility that comes from tough talk, without doing any of the hard work to back it up… and he refuses to learn that hollow bluster is the worst of all worlds, expending prestige and credibility in futile efforts to sway hard characters who are impressed by neither speeches nor hashtag selfies.  When someone calls his bluff, the entire Administration panics.

When it comes to Libya, I’ll stand by my long-held suspicion that Moammar Qaddafi was more dangerous in his later days than foreign-policy pragmatists tended to believe, he still had it coming for Lockerbie, and the world is better off without him.  But there are right and wrong ways to accomplish even the most unambiguously desirable ends, and Obama has a genius for finding the wrong way.  Then he strives mightily to keep the American people from noticing the wreckage buried beneath all his rhetorical blankets, without fooling either allies or adversaries abroad.  Benghazi was just the last set of lies Obama and Clinton told about Libya; after that, it became difficult for them to pretend things were going swimmingly.

As for where we go from here, many of the basic points he made at West Point are fairly uncontroversial – that’s why he made them.  The American people aren’t hungry for foreign interventions.  Terrorism is still the major threat on their minds.  Obama’s idea for sending a few billion dollars to support counter-terrorist operations by governments in the Middle East and Africa sounds better than it’s probably going to work in practice; significant numbers of American voters are still willing to believe problems can be resolved by pouring gallons of money into leaky pipes of corruption, both here and abroad.

I can’t say I like the odds of Syrian “moderates” defeating Bashar Assad, Vladimir Putin, and al-Qaeda with a bit of American training and equipment, but everyone agrees that would be the ideal outcome, so it can’t hurt politically to announce it as the Administration’s goal.  It’s not likely to be less effective than the zero-footprint bombing campaign Obama wanted, back when he thought military action was the primary component of American leadership, and there’s less risk of blowback.

Everyone would love to live in a world where the American president can talk all of the world’s tyrants and predators into doing the right thing, without a shot being fired.  The thing about relying on prestige and mild economic incentives to influence the course of nations is that it becomes vitally necessary to conserve that prestige, putting it behind mostly safe foreign policy investments.  Otherwise, you get to the point where no one takes your long-winded speeches seriously, except the pollsters who helped you write them.