Sometimes it really seems like President Barack Obama's national security team isn't paying much attention to what is going on around the world. You can argue—as they have—that they were caught off guard by the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi but, as it came on Sept. 11, 2012, you could argue just as convincingly that they should have be prepared.
The evidence is mounting, however, that they don't really have, besides bringing home the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, much of a strategy for anything. They don't know what the global threats are, they don't understand them and, as a consequence, they don't have a plan for dealing with them.
And, if that were not bad enough, in their ignorance they may actually be enabling bad people to do bad things. Look at North Africa, where more than one country is going through a period of extended chaos that the Obama administration itself helped to initiate. Libya and Egypt are both experiencing a period of profound instability as they emerge from decades-long dictatorships that suppressed individual liberty and religious and economic freedom.
Ordinarily this would be an argument for proceeding with extreme caution. Obama, it seems, believes that it is OK to behave as though it were business as usual, even as the "Muslim Brotherhood" government in Cairo becomes increasingly unpopular among the Egyptian people. For the folks at Foggy Bottom it seems to be "in for a penny, in for a pound" despite ample warnings that Egypt may get more unstable as the days and weeks go on. Which makes it all the more curious that the United States has begun to deliver 20 F-16 advanced fighter aircraft to the Egyptian military that were put on order before the new government came to power.
There are no guarantees that Egypt, which is no longer the stable and certain ally it once was, will not use those planes against U.S. interests, against Israel, or even against its own people should the antigovernment demonstrations targeting President Mohamed Morsi continue. Yet Obama's State Department signed off on sending them anyway.
Fortunately there are some people who are paying attention. One of them, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, asked the U.S. State Department at the end of last year to consider delaying its approval for delivery of the fighter jets. Last week, he got his answer, just before the first of the jets took off for Cairo.
Inhofe wasn't happy, and justifiably so. In a strongly worded statement he criticized the move, saying he was "alarmed and disappointed in the Obama Administration's decision to decline my request to delay delivery of F-16s for further consideration. The original F-16 agreement was forged under a different Egyptian leadership two years ago. The country's new leadership has a history of abominable hostility towards our ally, Israel, and support of radical terrorists. Just in September, the president was saying we could no longer consider the Egyptian government an ally."
The senator has a point. As the new ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Inhofe is in a position to keep this issue alive for a long time. He wants to know why the Obama administration is "knowingly providing" a government that could become openly hostile to the United States overnight "with top-of-the-line military equipment." And he is apparently ready to continue asking questions until he gets the answers he wants.
Morsi is not helping matters. As soon as he started to get the planes, the Washington Post reported, he "declared a state of emergency and nighttime curfew across three major cities Sunday after violence raged for a third straight day, leaving nearly 50 dead and hundreds injured nationwide. The deployment Saturday of government troops to the coastal cities of Port Said and Suez, which have seen some of the worst violence, failed to quell a public backlash against a court verdict and raised doubts about whether Morsi's embattled government could contain the situation."
With facts like that in evidence it appears Inhofe is right. It is not unreasonable to suspend the delivery of U.S. military stores to Egypt until things calm down, until a truly democratic parliament can be established, and the region becomes more stable. To continue on the course the Obama administration has set is to go down a dangerous path. Hopefully these are the kinds of things Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry can be questioned about before the Senate votes to confirm him as the next secretary of state and that former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel will be forced to address in his confirmation hearings to be the next secretary of defense. F-16s are not toys; they are advanced weaponry, among the finest planes the United States has ever produced. To send them without reservation or additional consideration to a country that could instantaneously become an enemy of Israel and ally of Iran is a foolish, foolish thing indeed.