Why Obama Isn't Bombing Libya

The terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya should not be categorized as a foreign policy failure for President Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

To bomb or not to bomb, that is the question.

After the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Republicans have been quick to blame President Barack Obama on his, as they put it, "failed foreign policy." Funny how when on Sept. 11, 2001 we were attacked by terrorists on American soil which resulted in over 3,000 deaths, Republicans did not feel that George W. Bush was responsible, nor that his foreign policies had failed.

Now we learn, in our quest for transparency, that the White House is considering a strike in retribution for the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the other U.S. diplomats who were murdered.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

After Sept. 11, 2001, we dropped both bombs and sandwiches into Afghanistan. As we can see from Afghanistan today, that knee-jerk reaction was not the smartest thing to do. And the same can be said of our invading the sovereign nation of Iraq. 

If we look back to our launching missiles, it happened rather quickly during the Clinton administration after the embassy in Nairobi had been attacked. It was a different country, region, situation, and of course, in this attack on Benghazi, there is not a pharmaceutical plant nearby which might be manufacturing chemicals to help al Qaeda.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

What we do have is two countries, Libya and Mali—where a coup threatens a once stable democracy— with fragile interim governments. What we do have is two governments the United States does not fully trust to cooperate and assist us with arrests and bringing these murderers to justice through a criminal court system. What we do know is that we have no target currently, as Ansar Al Shariah is suspected to be responsible, and other than a phone call bragging about the event, and a couple of eye witnesses seeing Ansar Al Shariah members near the embassy in Benghazi on September 11, there simply is not enough evidence to arrest, nor certainly attack—bomb or otherwise. Also, the FBI has been delayed in being able to fully investigate this matter—delayed by lack of cooperation by the Libyan government. 

We as Americans forget that we're dealing with international territory. We can't simply use drones, missiles, etc. without the approval of that foreign nation's government and its leaders. We have seen how using drones in Pakistan has hurt our relationship with the Pakistani government, and perhaps has helped to increase the Taliban's numbers by angering civilians. We don't need or want that to happen in Libya or Mali. Our relationship with these countries, being very mindful of innocent civilian lives that could be lost as well as that of our military, and the presence of al Qaeda in the north of Mali and in Libya through their relationship with Ansar Al Shariah, must all be considered before a strike. And that is exactly what this president, his administration, and our top brass in the military are doing.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Should Hillary Take the Fall for the Benghazi Attack?]

So of course Republicans are saying this is political. And it is—but not for the reasons Republicans are stating. Listening to a top security adviser to Mitt Romney on the radio, when pressed to answer the question, "Would this attack have occurred if Mitt Romney were president?" he stopped short of answering "yes." For terrorists are murderers, and they could care less if the U.S. president is black, white, Democrat, Republican, Christian, or Mormon.

And I believe, for the president, the decision as to what targets we attack, in what countries is very political—but not in the sense of his re-election. Rather, to ensure the security of Americans here and abroad, and to maintain and strengthen our relationship throughout the world, creating allies as opposed to enemies. In other words, the president is doing his job as commander in chief.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Has Obama Properly Handled the Arab Spring?
  • Read J. Peter Pham: Dealing With Mali's Plunge Into Failed State Status
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy