The PJ Tatler

WR Mead at His Best: 'Smart Diplomacy' Becoming a Punchline

Walter Russel Mead writing in The American Interest:

The reckless and thoughtless Libya intervention just keeps looking worse. But don’t read the critics to see how horrible things are: as the government announces that the U.S. has officially evacuated its embassy in Tripoli this morning, the latest State Department travel advisory for the country says it all.


The advisory reads like a nightmare-vacation brochure:

Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country and attacks by armed groups can occur in many different areas; hotels frequented by westerners have been caught in the crossfire.  Armed clashes have occurred in the areas near Tripoli International Airport, Airport Road, and Swani Road.  Checkpoints controlled by militias are common outside of Tripoli, and at times inside the capital.  Closures or threats of closures of international airports occur regularly, whether for maintenance, labor, or security-related incidents.  Along with airports, seaports and roads can close with little or no warning.  U.S. citizens should closely monitor news and check with airlines to try to travel out of Libya as quickly and safely as possible.

Don’t drink the water and if you go out after dark, make sure you wear your bullet-proof vest.

But Mead is angriest because he feels the lessons of Iraq were ignored by the administration when they blundered into the Libyan war.

If Obama were a Republican, the press and the weekly news shows would be ringing with hyperbolic, apocalyptic denunciations of the clueless incumbent who had failed to learn the most basic lessons of Iraq. Indeed, the MSM right now would be howling that Obama was stupider than Bush. Bush, our Journolist friends would now be saying ad nauseam, at least had the excuse that he didn’t know what happens when you overthrow a paranoid, genocidal, economically incompetent Arab tyrant in an artificial post-colonial state. But Obama did—or, the press would nastily say, he would have done if he’d been doing his job instead of hitting the golf course or yakking it up with his glitzy pals at late night bull sessions. The ad hominem attacks would never stop, and all the tangled threads of incompetence and failure would be endlessly and expertly picked at in long New Yorker articles, NYT thumbsuckers, and chin-strokings on all the Sabbath gasbag shows.

Why, the ever-admirable tribunes of a free and unbiased press would be asking non-stop, didn’t this poor excuse for a President learn from what happened in Iraq?  When you upend an insane and murderous dictator who has crushed his people for decades under an incompetent and quirky regime, you’d better realize that there is no effective state or civil society under the hard shell of dictatorial rule. Remove the dictator and you get chaos and anarchy. Wasn’t this President paying attention during the last ten years?


It’s not that Obama wasn’t paying attention, it’s that he believed himself to be smarter than everyone else and that such a fate could not befall him or his policies. Everybody warned the president that post-Qaddafi Libya was going to be a mess, a quagmire, a bloody clash of tribes, factions, and religions. But he dismissed the criticism, even from members of his own party.

Well, here we are, says Mead.

The news is so bad, and the President’s foreign policy is collapsing on so many fronts, that it is impossible to keep the story off the front pages. “Smart diplomacy” has become a punch line, and the dream Team Obama had of making Democrats the go-to national security party is as dead as the passenger pigeon. But what the press can do for the White House it still, with some honorable exceptions, labors to accomplish: it will, when it must, report the dots. But it will try not to connect them, and it will do what it can to let all the people involved in the Libya debacle move on to the next and higher stage of their careers.

Exactly. Have you seen any efforts in the press to connect the dots of Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Iran, and the border fiasco? The common thread is Obama’s policies leading to war and chaos. Such breathtaking incompetence, naivete, and arrogance have frightened our friends and emboldened our enemies. Not since the clueless reign of Jimmy Carter has American foreign policy been in such utter disarray.

Israel has taken the measure of this president and is ignoring his calls for a ceasefire in order to do what it thinks necessary for its security. Vladimir Putin has also sized up this president and realized that he can do just about anything — including helping to shoot down a passenger plane — with little fear of reprisal. Hundreds of thousands of people in Central America have judged President Obama to be an easy mark and are either here or on their way here.


At least Bush’s unforced errors were mostly confined to Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama’s incompetence spans the globe and the failure of his policies has the potential of igniting larger conflicts.

When you view the world through an extreme ideological prism, you see what your ideology tells you is real. The worldview expressed by President Obama was laughed out of America in 1972 when George McGovern told America to “come home.” It was apparently buried in 1984 when Walter Mondale lost 49 states.

But here it is, alive and well in 2014. When you believe your country is at fault for most of the world’s ills; when you think you can charm your enemies into being friends; when you think allies don’t matter; when you believe your own sycophantic press clippings regarding your ability to “lead from behind” — well, the resulting chaos and bloodshed let loose when America takes a back seat in world affairs is entirely predictable.

With American credibility in the toilet, you have to wonder if a total meltdown is avoidable.


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