British defense analyst blasts Obama military and foreign policies as “clueless”
posted at 12:01 pm on January 16, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
This comes not from an armchair analyst, but a senior adviser to the British military — our closest allies in war and diplomacy. Sir Hew Strachan doesn’t think highly of George Bush’s foreign policies and war strategies, but as he says, at least Bush had strategies. Barack Obama … not so much:
President Obama is “chronically incapable” of military strategy and falls far short of his predecessor George W. Bush, according to one of Britain’s most senior military advisors.
Sir Hew Strachan, an advisor to the Chief of the Defense Staff, told The Daily Beast that the United States and Britain were guilty of total strategic failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama’s attempts to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels “has left them in a far worse position than they were before.”
Strachan, a current member of the Chief of the Defense Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, cited the “crazy” handling of the Syrian crisis as the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11. “If anything it’s gone backwards instead of forwards, Obama seems to be almost chronically incapable of doing this. Bush may have had totally fanciful political objectives in terms of trying to fight a global War on Terror, which was inherently astrategic, but at least he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do in the world. Obama has no sense of what he wants to do in the world,” he said.
Strachan is particularly disenchanted with Obama’s handling of Syria and the red lines for chemical weapons use, as the Daily Mail reports:
‘What he’s done in talking about Red Lines in relation to Syria has actually devalued the deterrent effect of American military capability and it seems to me that creates an unstable situation, because if he were act it would surprise everybody,’ he said.
‘I think the other issue is that in starting and stopping with Assad, he’s left those who might be his natural allies in Syria with nowhere to go. He’s increased the likelihood that if there is a change of regime in Syria that it will be an Islamic fundamentalist one.’
This conclusion should hardly surprise anyone. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report states the same thing, although the committee unsurprisingly left that as an implication than an explicit condemnation. The disaster in Benghazi didn’t start on September 11, 2012, or even December 2011 when State first waived security requirements for our consulate in the city. It began when Obama led NATO into decapitating the Qaddafi regime without any thought or provision for what would happen afterward, and then blithely ignored the reality on the ground as the rest of the Western nations packed up and left Benghazi.
In my column today for The Fiscal Times, I point out that the conclusion of ultimate responsibility is painfully obvious, as is the real reason for the debacle in Libya and North Africa:
One does not need a name at the top of this report to know where responsibility rests for this massive failure. Hillary Clinton ran State, Leon Panetta ran Defense, and David Petraeus ran the CIA. But the distributed nature of the failure indicts the Obama administration and Barack Obama himself, too. The White House is responsible for interagency coordination, for one thing, especially when it comes to national security and diplomatic enterprises.
However, Obama’s responsibility extends farther and more specifically, too. The reason that eastern Libya had transformed into a terrorist haven in the first place was because of the Obama-led NATO intervention that deposed Moammar Qaddafi without any effort to fill the security vacuum his abrupt departure created.
Four months before the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Daniel Larison warned that the vacuum left by that 30,000-foot intervention not only meant trouble for the West in eastern Libya, but throughout North Africa as al Qaeda and its affiliates entrenched themselves. Sure enough, al Qaeda infused itself into a Tuareg rebellion and almost topped Mali, an effort which France belatedly stamped out with a boots-on-the-ground intervention – with those boots transported in part by the US Air Force. At the time, theFinancial Times called Mali “among the most embarrassing boomerangs” of American policy, specifically noting “the blowback in the Sahel from the overthrow of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi in Libya.”
The policies and actions of the Obama administration in Libya left behind a failed state, and the incompetent handling of security and readiness afterward left four Americans to die needlessly. The buck stops at the top for this mess.
The somewhat more sympathetic Amy Davidson reached the same conclusion from the report at The New Yorker:
The talking-points controversy was always strangely misdirected—in part because, as this report makes clear, there is a lot that was substantively wrong with the way things were managed in Benghazi. That is true particularly if the subject of discussion is Hillary Clinton. She does not come out well in this report, in any part, although the Republican minority is more florid in its criticisms. The State Department made mistakes when she was its leader. One of the findings is that nothing changed even when “tripwires” meant to prompt an increase in security or suspension in operations had been crossed, and people in the Department knew it.
Why not? She doesn’t really have an answer; in the past, she has deflected questions by pointing out that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died in Benghazi, was someone she knew well and cared about; there is no doubt that he was. Despite her performance at a hearing last year, when she wondered why exactly what happened really mattered, callous indifference is not the answer here. (That won’t stop the clip of her testimony from playing in political ads if she runs for President.) But her reluctance to change course may have been influenced by her heavy investment in the decision to take military action in Libya; the former defense secretary Robert Gates writes in his new memoir that hers was the voice that swayed the balance. (Joe Biden was on the other side.) Libya was one of the things she had managed in her stint as Secretary of State, for which she had been so praised. Also, again, Libya was supposed to be something we were done with; now it will be a question Hillary Clinton has to contend with in 2016, and, in fairness, rightly so.
This is something Obama has to answer for, too. He made the decision to intervene militarily in Libya without invoking the War Powers Act—and that, and not some phantom version of the talking points, is the purloined letter in this case. …
By saying that he didn’t have to get Congress’s permission because whatever we were doing didn’t rise to the level of “hostilities,” he was willing it to always be so. There was no challenge then, but there also wasn’t the kind of consent that might have put some check on the most partisan extremes in the fight about Benghazi now. Obama and his advisers had decided beforehand that this was limited, and wouldn’t go wrong; and then it did.
And to this day, they still won’t acknowledge that failure. That’s why four Americans died in Benghazi — because the Obama administration wasn’t willing to admit that Obama’s grand scheme to intervene in Libya had turned it into a disastrous failed state and a haven for al-Qaeda, even when the CIA and DoD were warning them of it, which is noted fully in the SSCI report. It’s hubris stacked on incompetence, and Strachan is hardly the only one to have noticed this combination.