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The Hill - Honest foreign policy needed to turn tide of Middle East chaos

Op-Ed

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By Representative Dan Burton

Even the most casual observer of last Wednesday's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing regarding the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya had to have walked away bewildered by the Obama Administration. To someone like me who has more than 30 years of foreign policy expertise, after enduring hours of political theater, partisan cross talk, and bureaucratic flack, the hearing reinforced my opinion that this tragic event was the direct result of the weak policies of an administration completely out of touch with the realities of an unpredictable and violent world.

From the beginning, I questioned not only the constitutionality of the president's intervention in Libya but the wisdom. Colonel Qadhafi was not a nice guy, but he was not a direct threat to the United States either. The world is full of despotic and oppressive regimes. The sad fact is that even in 2012, more of the world labors in the shadow of tyranny than in the daylight of democracy and the rule of law. Many of the world's leaders are at least as bad as Qadhafi and many are even worse. Even with our best in the world military, we are not the world's policeman.

But the administration went into Libya anyway; and then doubled down on its mistake by trying to pretend everything was "normal" on the ground, when things were far from normal. Even a first-year political science student knows that out of any civil revolution comes a period of great instability and uncertainty. Unfortunately, the professor in the White House didn't know that a post-Qadhafi Libya was not going to be stable for months or maybe even years to come. And four Americans paid for this naiveté with their lives and a U.S. consulate (sovereign U.S. territory) lies in ashes.

The Regional Security Officer (RSO) in Libya saw the realities on the ground. He begged his superiors in Foggy Bottom for additional security resources. In the thirteen months leading up to the attack on our compound in Benghazi, he reported over 230 security incidents in Libya; and although our Embassy personnel were granted additional danger pay because the security situation on the ground was growing more dangerous, Washington repeatedly rebuked the RSO's pleas for additional security personnel. It seems the president and the State Department were more concerned about portraying Libya as a foreign policy success, and not offending the sensibilities of the Libyans, than protecting the lives of U.S. personnel. That is the only plausible conclusion that can be derived from the stiff resistance to an increased security presence in Benghazi leading up to the attack.

And it is this obsessive determination to view the world as Mr. Obama wants it to be, instead of how it really is, that is, in my opinion, at the heart of the Obama Administration's failures. The world is not a college textbook. What is worse, even when reality crashes in on the house of mirrors that is President Obama's foreign policy, the administration's kneejerk response is to try to spin reality to meet their fiction or to simply blame someone else. For more than a week after the attack, Obama Administration officials continued to insist the attacks were the result of a demonstration triggered by anger over a YouTube video, as were protests earlier in the day in Cairo. But our intelligence community knew with 24 hours that the organized attack by heavily armed militants who overwhelmed five U.S. diplomatic security agents, a rapid-response force, and two or three members of a Libyan militia was a terrorist assault and probably planned by the North African chapter of al-Qaeda. Now that the videotape lie has been exposed, the administration's second scapegoat is our very own U.S. intelligence community. I cannot emphasize enough how unacceptable that is.

Given the scope of the tragedy in Libya, the administration and its defenders in Congress and the media need to face the reality on the ground. From the Middle East to the northern tier of Africa, we have chaos and it is because of the naiveté of President Obama and his administration. Islamic fundamentalist groups with Al Qaeda ties are entrenching themselves in Libya and elsewhere in the region. Eyewitnesses reported seeing elements of Ansar Al Sharia present during the attack on our compound in Benghazi. Our ill-conceived intrusion into Libya and our bungling of the Arab Spring uprisings have created fertile ground for the very extremists we have spent over a decade trying to defeat. We can still turn the tide, but only if we are honest about the problem.

It is high time that the president and his enablers join us in that critical realization.


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