All the World Wonders
Oct 1, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 03 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. And those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control.
The U.S. consulate in Benghazi
—U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice Sunday, September 16
There was no spontaneous “fray” in Benghazi that “spun out of control.” The only thing spinning out of control last week was the Obama administration, frantically portraying the terrible events in the Middle East as anything but what they were. By late in the week the Obama narrative had been exposed as just that, a narrative, and the White House grudgingly had to abandon it.
They were sorry to do so. They were fond of their spin. The mainstream media reported the Obama administration’s shift as if it had gotten a few things wrong in the heat of a crisis, and then new information came to light. But that isn’t the case. The administration wanted to misrepresent what had happened. The administration wanted to sell the story that a wacky anti-Islam video made in America caused the violence in Cairo and Benghazi and dozens of other cities.
That story line absolved the Obama administration of any responsibility for what had happened. It also went a long way toward absolving bad actors in the Muslim world of blame. There have been indications over the last four years that, in its heart of hearts, the Obama administration blames America first for many of the ills of the world. On this occasion, the administration stopped hinting and came clean. It explicitly, even eagerly, blamed America.
Meanwhile, in the real world, things are falling apart. We are paying the price of American weakness. Enemies of the United States everywhere are emboldened. The Iranian regime dashes for nuclear weapons, sponsors terror, aids Assad in Syria, and seeks to facilitate the killing of American troops where it can. Anti-American factions in countries from Pakistan to Iraq to Egypt step forward with renewed confidence. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are back on offense now that Obama has precipitously undone the surge and seems to be heading for the exits. Russia scoffs at us, China ignores us and throws its weight around. As all the world wonders, Obama does nothing.
Actually, he does some things: He cuts our defense budget. He undercuts Israel. And he takes credit for the fact that, as he said at the Democratic convention of Afghanistan, “in 2014, our longest war will be over.”
Obama doesn’t even pretend to claim that war will end victoriously or even successfully. It was President Obama who less than three years ago ordered tens of thousands more troops into that country. Those troops fought bravely and died nobly—but Obama can’t bother to feign much interest in the outcome of the cause for which they fought.
President Obama likes to say “the tide of war is receding.” But war isn’t a tide, and in any case it’s not receding. We’re retreating, and our influence is receding—and this makes war, and chaos, and terror, more likely, not less. It is the tide of American power that’s been receding under President Obama.
In his remarks on September 11, Obama paid tribute to members of the 9/11 generation who have worn the uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. But about the goals they sacrificed for? Nothing. Here’s what their commander in chief had to say on September 11: “Today, the war in Iraq is over. In Afghanistan, we’re training Afghan security forces and forging a partnership with the Afghan people. And by the end of 2014, the longest war in our history will be over.”
The training and partnering now appear to be little more than bloody fig leaves. One war is over, and the other will be over—that’s Obama’s message. Obama used to pretend that the end of the wars would be accompanied by all kinds of positive developments in the Muslim world. No longer. Now we’re just heading for the exits, lobbing drones as we go.
The members of the 9/11 generation who fought for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan know the president has blundered. But theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die, says Obama.
All the world wonders.