MIchael WeiserThe author is an attorney and Middle East analyst who blogs about Israeli-American relations, Middle Eastern regional security, and the threat Islamist terrorism poses to Western civilization
No events have done more to bring into sharp focus the fecklessness and failure of the Obama administration's foreign policy than the twin assaults on America's embassies and diplomatic personnel in Libya and Egypt on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.
To understand the events of that day, one need only look back to June 4, 2009, when President Obama traveled to Cairo's Al-Azhar university to embark on an apology tour on behalf of America by delivering a speech titled "A New Beginning." The title of the speech was prophetic, as less than two years later Obama made the fateful and foolish decision to remove longtime U.S. ally Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and pave the way for the ascent of the radical Muslim Brotherhood to power, whose motto is, "Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."
What Obama’s policy demonstrates is his utter lack of historical knowledge about Egypt’s modern history. In many regards, Egypt is the epicenter of modern jihadist ideology. It is where the Muslim Brotherhood was born in the 1920s. It is also the place where Sayyid Qutb, the influential Muslim philosopher, developed the idea of offensive jihad, which spawned Hamas and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad which eventually influenced and merged with al-Qaida. Qutb’s teachings inspired an entire generation of jihadists, among them: Anwar al-Awlaki, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Osama Bin Laden.
For over thirty years since the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat by Islamist radicals, Mubarak contained the boiling cauldron of Muslim fanatics, sustained the peace treaty with Israel, and served as the West’s secular bulwark in the Middle East against Iran’s radical ayatollahs.
Until Barack Obama helped unseat him from power.
It is no wonder then, that since the election of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's trajectory vis-à-vis the U.S. has been on a slippery slope into the abyss. First came the unauthorized stationing of military equipment in Sinai, then came mention of “review” of the peace treaty with Israel, followed by Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s trip to Tehran for the Nonaligned Movement Conference; the first trip of its kind to Iran for an Egyptian president since 1979. The culmination of this slide came in the form of an attack against the U.S. embassy in Cairo on 9/11.
Among those leading the crowds of Islamist barbarians who chanted, “Obama! Obama! We are all Osama! [Bin Laden],” who tore the American flag to shreds, then burned it, and hoisted an al-Qaida flag in its stead, was none other than Mohammed al-Zawahiri, younger brother to al-Qaida's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
According to a CNN report, Muhammad al-Zawahiri was imprisoned in Egypt for over a decade for various terrorist acts including his alleged role in the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. In addition, the report states that it is known that he worked for charities affiliated with al-Qaeda and was a commander in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad which merged with al-Qaeda once his brother Ayman joined up with Osama Bin Laden.
President Obama might have averted the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the strengthening of al-Qaeda elements in Egypt had he been properly briefed by his intelligence experts.
Then again, he may not have been able to avert it as Obama, according to Marc Thiessen of the Washington Post, missed sixty-two percent of his daily intelligence briefings by experts in 2011-2012. Apparently Obama has some supernatural ability which allows him to skip intelligence briefings that other mere mortals would need or want to attend. As National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor put it, Obama does not need to attend daily briefings because he is “among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet.”
How sophisticated is Obama? He’s so sophisticated that the day after the attacks, instead of holding a scheduled intelligence briefing, he jetted off to Las Vegas to attend a fundraiser for his re-election campaign.
And how did Obama regard Egypt after the mayhem there? The president said, "I don't think we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy."
What he means is that he cannot call Egypt an ally because if he does he looks ridiculous. What ally—whose General Intelligence Service had warned about a pending jihadi attack against the U.S. embassy according to the Jerusalem Post--would allow a U.S. embassy to be attacked and do nothing to prevent barbaric crowds from scaling the embassy walls, tearing down an American flag, shredding and burning it and replacing it with an al-Qaeda flag?
What ally belatedly condemns the violence to save face with the U.S. and then in the same breath has the gall to call for the prosecution of the filmmaker of "Innocence of Muslims," the obscure film--which was created in June or July--was dubbed into Arabic, presented as the work of the U.S. government and broadcast on September 8 by the Egyptian Islamist Al-Nas TV channel as an excuse to whip up anti-U.S. violence to coincide with 9/11?
But Obama is trapped because he cannot call Egypt an enemy either. To do so would mean that Obama’s decision to oust Mubarak in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood was a strategic blunder of epic proportions. So Obama settled for the ambiguous middle ground of calling Egypt neither an ally nor an enemy in the desperate hope that nobody would notice the unfolding fiasco.
And while Obama’s kinder, gentler outreach to the Muslim world was unraveling in Morsi’s newly Islamist Egypt, in Libya U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was making history as the first U.S. ambassador to be murdered in the line of duty since Adolph Dubs was killed in Afghanistan in 1979.
One of the most astonishing aspects of the murder of Ambassador Stevens--along with three other Americans—was that like the attacks in Egypt, U.S. officials had credible intelligence of a possible attack on the Benghazi embassy forty-eight hours before it happened.
Yet despite this critical information no high alerts were issued, no warnings were given to diplomats, and no lockdowns were ordered. There were even reports that American personnel in Egypt charged with defending the embassy were not permitted to load their weapons with live ammunition.
Aside from the devastating attack on the embassy and the loss of Ambassador Stevens and three others, there are deeper implications that reflect further Obama policy failures in regards to North Africa and to al-Qaeda.
For example, whenever the Obama administration wishes to tout its foreign policy credentials, it points to the operation that eliminated Osama Bin Laden. In fact, at the Democratic National Convention the demise of Bin Laden was mentioned no less than twenty one times. Obama is also fond of mentioning how drone strikes have devastated the ranks of al-Qaeda, even though the tactic was adopted from the Bush administration.
But on September 10, just a day before the Benghazi embassy attack, Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video eulogizing Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior Libyan al-Qaeda operative killed by a U.S. drone strike last June. In the tape al-Zawahiri called to avenge al-Libi saying, “His blood is calling, urging and inciting you to fight and kill the crusaders.” This may have been the signal to launch the embassy attack in Libya.
It is now widely believed that the Benghazi embassy attack was a carefully pre-planned operation most likely executed by terrorists affiliated with, but not limited to al-Qaeda’s North African franchise, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
The attack had all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda attack. The embassy was attacked with advanced weapons like RPG7s, the terrorists knew where the ambassador was, and the attack came in two waves: first on the consulate building and then on the safe house at a different location. Yet the attack might have been prevented had the U.S. beefed up its security or warned its diplomatic corps based on the intelligence it had in hand.
Instead, al-Qaeda and its radical Islamist minions got a public relations boost across the Arab world, demonstrated by attacks on American interests from Tunisia to Bangladesh. America, by contrast, got ruined embassies and four dead Americans.
The consequences of the attacks on U.S. interests are even more far reaching as they demonstrate America’s weakness in the region, they show that the al-Qaeda core, while damaged, is still capable of attacking and therefore relevant and finally, the attacks highlight the ascendancy of al-Qaida 2.0 elements to the fore in the global jihad whether they be in Yemen, Somali, or Libya.
And this brings us full circle back to Obama. It was Obama who helped remove Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi from power despite the fact that after Saddam Hussein was removed in Iraq, Qaddafi gave up his WMD program and was largely neutralized as a threat to the U.S.
So within a brief time frame, Obama managed to remove Qaddafi who was no longer a threat to the U.S. as well as Mubarak, who was a U.S. ally of the most populous Arab state.
More significantly though, what Obama left in their wake were two models of states where terrorist organizations flourish: in failed states and weak decentralized ones like Libya and in fundamentalist Islamist states like Egypt has become.
In essence, Obama’s foreign policy legacy will be that he eliminated individuals in the al-Qaeda core, but lost entire countries to radical Islamism and terrorists thereby massively expanding the pool of enthusiastic adherents willing to rally to the cause of global jihad.
And that foreign policy legacy can only be characterized as one of fecklessness and failure.