I think this might be a sneak peek at the final two and a half years of Hopenchange foreign policy. Having achieved squat from his big-ticket initiatives — outreach to Russia, Egyptian democracy, intervention in Libya, a doomed nuclear “deal” with Iran — maybe Obama’s planning to stick to small-ball actions that everyone can feel good about from here on out. Post-Qaddafi Libya increasingly looks like a “Mad Max” landscape, but if our boys can mow down some Boko Haram scumbags and get a few of those kidnapped girls back, everyone will smile, no?
Reports from border villagers soon after more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from their secondary school in Chibok by Boko Haram indicated that some may have been ferried across Lake Chad or taken to Chad or Cameroon via land routes…
“Approximately 80 U.S. Armed Forces personnel have deployed to Chad as part of the U.S. efforts to locate and support the safe return of over 200 schoolgirls who are reported to have been kidnapped in Nigeria,” said the letter from Obama submitted to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate President Pro Tempore Pat Leahy (D-Vt.).
“These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” Obama continued. “The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”
I’d be curious to hear O explain the national-security rationale for this mission, although, in fairness to him, the public doesn’t demand one of those to justify a small military intervention. U.S. troops won’t be in the lead here, just in a support role, much like the troops who were sent to Africa a few years to try to find Joseph Kony. They haven’t found him yet, just like they probably won’t find the girls. It’s not for lack of trying; it’s just that the project is quixotic.
On Tuesday, a Defense Department spokesman, Rear. Adm. John Kirby, called the search for the missing girls tantamount to finding “a needle in a jungle.”
“We’re talking about an area roughly the size of West Virginia, and it’s dense forest jungle,” he told reporters.
We might not find them but we’re trying, and that proof of Obama’s good intentions is something he can and will point to the next time he’s called out on his record of endless foreign-policy misfires. You’re apt to hear a lot about this deployment in the news today; what you might not have heard is that there’s another small squad of U.S. troops who are preparing to deploy to Africa for a very different kind of mission. Quietly, 250 Marines are on alert in Sicily right now to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Libya if things go (further) sideways in Tripoli. The country has reached the brink of dissolving into outright warlordism — in part because the White House didn’t pay enough attention to stop it.
Libyan authorities, to put it bluntly, have lost control of their country. A revolt by a rogue general against Libya’s Islamist groups has pitted the nation’s vast constellation of militias against one another, with civilians increasingly caught in the crossfire. The country’s neighbors and partners are frantic: Over the weekend, Algerian forces dropped into the capital city Tripoli to exfiltrate their ambassador and later closed all border crossings with Libya; Tunisia amassed 5,000 troops at the Libyan border; and the U.S. Defense Department doubled the number of aircraft on standby in Italy and deployed hundreds of Marines to Sicily in case they needed to abruptly evacuate the embassy, a decision that could come at literally any moment…
[T]he administration … unveiled a program late last year that would have brought roughly 8,000 Libyan soldiers outside the country for military training designed to turn them into the core of a new Libyan army. The program has struggled to get off the ground, however. A former U.S. official involved in the creation of the program said the administration seemed to quickly lose interest in the program and was never willing to devote the resources necessary to train enough troops to actually help pacify Libya…
[T]he U.S. [also] preferred to leave many issues related to the economy to the Libyans and other international institutions. “They really did not seek to play a major visible role,” said Jacquand.
Say this much for O: His approach to Libya has been consistent. He sold the intervention as a case of “leading from behind” and he stuck with it throughout the country’s abortive reconstruction, with Libya now poised for civil war and various forms of jihadi degeneracy, from sharia law to terror plots to arms dealing. Hopefully we’ll bring back the kidnapped girls, though.
Exit question via Ross Douthat: Apart from the Bin Laden raid, what would qualify as a White House foreign-policy “success”? We’re five years into Hopenchange. There should be some red-letter international triumph that America can point to as vindication of the Obama 2008 vision. What is it?