Dr. Lamont Colucci is an associate professor of politics at Ripon College, recent Fulbright scholar to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and author of The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future, among other books. You can find out more at lamontcolucci.com.
Charles Dickens' famous novel starts out with one of the most poignant passages in the English language: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …" As many know, the story revolved around the two cities of Paris and London and described both the absurdity and the honor of the humans involved.
One hundred and fifty four years after Dickens published "A Tale of Two Cities," we again face both the absurdity and the honor of the humans involved. The two cities in this tale are Benghazi and Damascus. As the world and American press engage in mental gymnastics over minimalist arguments, the firestorm far above these issues rages violently.
These pygmy issues are myriad: Did the White House change the talking points? Were warnings over Islamic extremists' terror ignored? What kind of chemical weapons did Syrian President Bashar Assad use? Is Assad truly interested in peace negotiations? This is not to suggest that these particular questions are unimportant; it is to suggest that these questions are far less important than the grand issues that caused these questions to begin with. In other words, there was a pathway that brought us to this fork in the road.
Once a Greek trading city, Benghazi has come to symbolize one edge of the worst aspect of the Obama foreign policy. Regardless of the attention paid to issues like the talking points, the real issue is the inaction and ultimately poor decisions concerning intervention in Libya and a failure to come to grips with the global War on Terror. This American side of the coin is ultimately represented by the tragic deaths of four Americans, and although there is plenty to investigate about that tactical situation, it begs the question of strategy over Libya, North Africa and Islamic extremism.
The failure of the Obama administration to manage the Libyan crisis from the beginning is the essence of the issue. It allowed the situation to spin so out of control that it would then use the excuse of a massacre in this very city (Benghazi) to intervene a day late and dollar short.
The other side of the coin is Syria. This illegitimate regime has been a rogue state for decades, a state that has pillaged and looted at the expense of Lebanon, threatened Israel, pursued weapons of mass destruction, supports and condones the most violent terrorist groups and faces extinction in the same manner as the insidious communist regimes of eastern Europe. Assad could have been the Middle Eastern Ceausescu. This is the other edge of the failure of the Obama foreign policy.
Here the tragedy is not American lives, but the lives of innocent civilians, Muslim and Christian. The administration made a colossal strategic failure, only dwarfed by the failure to assist the Green revolution in Iran. If ultimately, the United States makes good on its historical promise and intervenes against the regime in Syria, it will be more costly, more dangerous and more fraught with peril than had the Obama administration exercised its mandate to lead.
How many deaths are at the door of this White House over inaction and the inability to lead? There were multiple windows of opportunities when the United States could have chosen the right rebel groups and commanders, assisted them with tactics and strategies, pushed the Islamic extremists out early, established an early no fly zone and clearly indicated that American air and naval power would protect demarcated safe havens. In other words, the United States should have boldly stepped to the forefront and clearly told the Russians and other supporters of the Syrian regime to remove themselves from a losing cause.
These early actions would have reduced the costs and greatly diminished the number of those that died. It is the constant drumbeat from Washington that continues to be marginalized by media obsession with the minuscule. The ultimate problem is not the obsession over a particular email or type of weapon, but the failure to lead when chaos and violence are the obvious result.
St. Paul received the most important conversion in Christianity on the road to Damascus so he could do what was right; let us hope American leadership does as well.