Commentary Magazine


Is the Libya Debacle Already Forgotten?

Such is the nature of the 24/7 news cycle that you might think last week’s attack on the U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen had occurred sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The overwhelming attention devoted to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video story in the mainstream media has seemed to relegate the impact of the unraveling of American foreign policy in the Middle East to sidebar status. The disproportionate attention the liberal media has given Romney’s video may damage his campaign, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that this week’s story trumps last week’s or at least consigns it to be merely dropped down the memory hole.

The widespread attacks on American outposts in the region are a sign of what had already been obvious to serious observers: President Obama’s four-year effort to ingratiate the Arab and Muslim world has been a dismal failure. It’s not just that the president’s hubristic belief that his personal iconic status could change views about the United States have proven to be so much more self-delusion. It’s also that the White House’s unwillingness to accept that al-Qaeda is alive and well and planning terror attacks on vital U.S. targets — warnings about which have been ignored — in countries like Libya illustrates that the “Bin Laden is dead” mantra asserting the triumph of Obama’s foreign and defense policies is largely fiction. Last week’s attacks were emblematic of a catastrophic chapter in the history of American foreign policy. By comparison, Romney’s gaffe is a mere footnote to the story of this year’s presidential campaign.

But the media’s appetite for digesting this tragedy seems to have been limited. Indeed, were it not for their desire to slap down Romney’s attack on the initial apology for an anti-Muslim film that was issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, many of the chattering classes would have had no interest in talking about it at all.

While serious questions remain unanswered about the sequence of events in Libya that led to the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the story was pretty much dropped once the Romney video was released. That the White House continued to promote the myth that the attack was not a planned terrorist attack, but only a result of the protests about the film, is more of a scandal than anything Romney said. But they got away with it and only slightly changed their tune once the nation’s attention was diverted by the Romney video.

The repudiation by the Arab street of Obama’s policies is nearly complete. He had hoped to win their hearts and minds by distancing the U.S. from Israel and by outreach that was epitomized by the president’s June 2009 Cairo speech in which he paid obeisance to Muslim sensitivities. But his exercise in false moral equivalence has only bred contempt for U.S. power and damaged U.S. interests. His ambiguous response to the Arab Spring managed to gain the worst of both worlds for his country as friendly regimes fell and were replaced by dangerous Islamists without the U.S. gaining credit for sandbagging former allies.

Just as bad is the fact that these attacks have shown that the administration’s boasts about the killing of Osama bin Laden is a thin cover for a counter-terror strategy that has seen al-Qaeda gain strength on the president’s watch. That an article on this crucial issue only merited placement on page 13 of today’s New York Times rather than the front page treatment that is still being given to the Romney video three days after that story broke tells you all you need to know about the skewed priorities of that newspaper and other liberal outlets.

But in this case, the common sense of the American people may be prevailing over the herd instinct of the chattering classes. Much of the journalistic world spent last week promoting the assumption that Romney’s sharp response to the apology would sink him. But, as liberal Times blogger and political analyst Nate Silver admitted today:

Mr. Romney’s comments about Libya last week, for instance, were supposed to be very damaging to him, but if anything the numbers have moved toward him since then.

It could be that the voters understand that rather than being a negative for Romney, recent events have shown the bankruptcy of Obama’s policies. Though it is arguable whether the Republican can overcome the handicap that a hostile media has placed on his already challenged campaign, the polls may reveal that the American people believe that the president’s policy failures are of greater moment than Romney’s loose talk.

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