Benghazi to Mali: Connecting the Dots

In his inaugural address President Obama included much that people want to believe, including: “This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve  and proved our resilience.  A decade of war is now ending.” Done with Bush’s “bad war” in Iraq; ending Obama’s inconsequential “good war” in Afghanistan. Smooth sailing ahead. Good enough to win reelection; freightening if he believes it.

Dot 1. The al Queda franchises are alive and well – in Afghanistan and Pakistan; in Yemen; in North Africa. Gone is the spiritual leader, but remaining is the virulent anti-West Islamism. The drone war continues, killing leaders when they can be found, civilians when they get in the way, and an occasional American traitor. Finding leaders to interrogate – forget it.  Winning the hearts and minds of the populace – such a 70’s concept.

Dot 2. NATO brought the Arab Spring to Libya – a war, whether Obama was willing to ask Congress for approval or not. One ugly dictator removed; chaos in its wake.

Dot 3. Libyan armaments make their way to Syria; former mercenaries make their way to Saharan Africa and make us learn a new set of place names – Gao, Bamako, Mopti – and learn where Timbuktu is.  They join Islamist militias who conquor northern Mali and attack western interests in Algeria.

Dot 4. The French intervene to support African Union troops and save the government of Mali, a country of 14.5 million people with a territory almost twice the size of Texas. Europe fears an Afghanistan-like safe haven from which jihadist attacks can be launched. Obama rejects initial French calls for help with reconnaisance, air transport, and aerial refueling, but later relents as the French face little resistance. He agrees to base some American drones in neighboring Niger. Our allies need to rethink American support – in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Dot 5. Our outgoing Secretary of State tells the Senate, “What difference does it make whether …. (her subordinates in Benghazi) were killed by a planned terrorist attack or a bunch of guys out for a walk.”  The New York Times cheers.

Dot 6. Looming sequestration threatens meat-axe cuts of $45 billion per year on top of planned reductions with the wind down of the Afghan war.  Chuck Hagel is brought on as Secretary of Defense with the job of scaling back personnel, equipment, and missions.

Well, Hillary  ….  acknowledging the reality that virulent anti-West Islamism is thriving across a wide swath of territory makes a big difference to Europe, to our friends in the Middle East, and to us. We are, and will remain, the dominant global military power. We have the unique ability to support allies in places like Libya or Mali with intelligence (satellite; electronic), air transportation, aerial refueling, and materiel without risking American lives. If we believe that the decade of war is ending (never mind Iran and Syria), that it doesn’t matter who we are facing in North Africa, and that the French and Africans can do it without us, we will all pay a heavy price in the future.


As a change of pace, this week’s video is a 24 minute tour of the international space station by a NASA astronaut.