Opinion
A damaged aircraft is pictured after a shelling at Tripoli International Airport, Libya July 15, 2014. REUTERS/Hani Amara A damaged aircraft is pictured after a shelling at Tripoli International Airport, Libya July 15, 2014. REUTERS/Hani Amara  

U.S. Flees The Libyan Bedlam We Created

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Herb London
President, London Center for Policy Research
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      Herb London

      Herb London is the president of the London Center for Policy Research. He is the former president of the Hudson Institute and professor emeritus at New York University. He created the Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 1972 and was its dean until 1992. London is coauthor of “The Sunni Vanguard.”

At least this time they managed to get our diplomats out.

For the Obama administration’s foreign policy, this weekend’s evacuation of our embassy in Tripoli marked a big improvement over from the last time Libyan terrorists ran rampant in the streets. Last time, on September 11, 2012 at Benghazi, the White House couldn’t manage to protect Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the three other Americans who gave their lives in our names.

This time, the White House had more than enough time to plan — months, in fact.

Washington stood by helplessly as warring Islamist militias wreaked havoc throughout Libya and gradually encircled Tripoli. The advance notice at least gave the White House plenty of time to organize our departure.

Obama administration planners orchestrated a retreat over land, from Tripoli to Tunisia. Our diplomats fled the country under cover of American fighter jets, surveillance planes and V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft.

It must have been quite a show of U.S. firepower. Too bad it came a few months late.

The evacuation of an American embassy anywhere in the world is an exclamation point that emphasizes failure to friends and foes alike, and Barack Obama’s retreat from Tripoli is particularly troublesome.

Libya today is a burning island of chaos in a larger ocean of President Obama’s foreign policy disarray that stretches from Tripoli to Cairo to Gaza to Damascus and beyond.

This is a supremely dangerous time that calls for strong American leadership, but the president is on vacation, the secretary of state is ineffectual — and, as of this weekend, our embassy in Tripoli no longer exists.

If anything is to be salvaged from the anarchy that is now unfolding, it should be a renewed appreciation for a more realistic worldview to guide our future foreign policy strategies.

President Obama came to office in the vain belief that he was such a transformational figure that he could alter the nature of religious conflict in the region. “As a boy,” he reminded his 2009 audience in Cairo, “I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.”

It was this naïve belief in a “new beginning” in U.S.-Islamic relations that led the Obama foreign policy establishment to do handstands in celebration of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011.

Dismissing well-articulated concerns over the likely ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamists throughout the region, President Obama and his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got carried away with the emotion of the moment.

Like the crowds in the streets and on Twitter, they hailed the overthrow of a largely subdued Muammar Gaddafi and of longstanding U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The optics, they seemed to believe, played nicely into their narrative: Barack Obama as the bridging figure of change who would bring an end to “this cycle of suspicion and discord” between the United States and the Arab street.

Barely two years later, our worst nightmare — a radical Islamist free-for-all across the region — is coming true before our eyes.