By Paul Mutter
As Republican House members grilled State Department officials over the last month’s lethal attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel in Benghazi, Gen. Michael Hayden, George W. Bush’s former CIA director (2006 to 2009) and now a Romney campaign advisor, suggested in a column published on the CNN website that realism should govern U.S. actions in the Middle East, as opposed to “wishful thinking:”
In any event, given the administration’s existing narrative about its success against al Qaeda and the inherent attractiveness of the spontaneous attack plotline (a spontaneous attack would be neither predictable nor preventable and therefore less likely to invite blame for a lack of sufficient security), there were likely strong instincts in the White House to accept and publicize the original director of national intelligence assessment regardless of confidence levels or competing analysis.
Strong instincts, but not necessarily good instincts.
…. Even more importantly, if wishful thinking can sometimes create political problems, it could take a far more important toll on the development and implementation of actual policy. The decision to intervene in Libya, though wrapped in a U.N. Security Council resolution to protect innocent life, was also a decision to overthrow the Libyan government, and U.S./NATO airstrikes continued until that goal was achieved.
With that “victory,” Libya was predictably thrown into chaos: no central government, no institutions of civil society, fractious armed militias, a budding jihadist movement in the east, lingering regionalism and tribalism elsewhere. Predictable consequences were not confined to Libya. Awash with weapons and fleeing mercenaries, northern Mali was broken off from the center and became a haven for a strengthening al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
…. Although we were less immediately responsible for the overthrow of regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, we will be no less affected by the outcome in those states. The same will hold true for Syria when the day of reckoning comes for Bashar al-Assad’s regime. What level of effort is the United States prepared to exert?
We shouldn’t fool ourselves. Our influence will often be far from decisive. But neither will it be trivial.
And surely, in a time of global challenges and fiscal pressures, we will have to pick our investments and “interventions” carefully.
But that will require a realistic rather than a wishful appreciation of events.
Over the past year the administration has repeatedly emphasized that “the tide of war is receding” and that “it’s time to do some nation-building here at home.” Many have read this as advertising an American retrenchment from commitments abroad.