National Security & Defense

Delusion Defined: President Obama Ignores ISIS in Libya

(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

President Obama claims he is leading and inspiring U.S. allies around the world. The opposite is true: The architecture of American-anchored global stability is collapsing, and our adversaries are advancing. Put simply, President Obama’s rhetoric of confidence is at war with a reality of chaos.

Just look at Libya. At a press conference on Tuesday, Obama was asked whether greater U.S. military force was necessary to dislodge ISIS from its Libyan headquarters in Sirte. He responded, “With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after al-Qaeda wherever they appeared.” Yet as Nancy Youssef reports today at The Daily Beast, Obama has rejected Pentagon plans to smash ISIS’s Libya outpost. The dichotomy between the president’s rhetoric and reality could not be more dramatically clear. 

Ignoring ISIS in Libya is a major strategic error. As I noted here in September 2014, Libya’s collapse into anarchy was a long time coming. But today, with a safe haven on the Mediterranean, ISIS is presenting an undeniable threat. That safe haven gives ISIS the facility to plan, prepare, direct, and launch attacks across the world. Recent ISIS attacks in Jakarta and Turkey, and the FBI’s inability to access Syed Farook’s iPhone in the San Bernardino shootings, illustrate the seriousness of this threat. As does the extreme concern of European governments (including Britain). It’s gambling with reality (or what Obama calls “strategy”) to assume that intelligence services can disrupt attackers. It’s also a gamble to assume that intelligence services have infinite resources to cover the full range of ISIS’s geographic empire.

Until January 20 2017, Barack Obama will hibernate in the warmth of his rhetorical cocoon.

Yet there’s another critical reason that President Obama is wrong to ignore Libya: ideology and power. By allowing ISIS to carve out its global empire unchallenged, the U.S. allows ISIS leaders and propagandists to present themselves as chosen soldiers of God. In turn, ISIS attracts to its banner new recruits, resources, and jihadist organizations. And while some say that ISIS is a small threat compared with Russia and China, they underestimate the pernicious power ISIS has attained. Today, thanks to its growing global power, ISIS now has ability both to fray Western civil society (as we see in the Bataclan Theater attacks in Paris) and absorb periphery states such as Lebanon and Jordan into its Caliphate.

The president’s disinterest is now defining. Until January 20 2017, Barack Obama will hibernate in the warmth of his rhetorical cocoon. Until then, we must hope our counterterrorism professionals can hold the line.

— Tom Rogan writes for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets @TomRtweets. His homepage is tomroganthinks.com.

Tom Rogan — Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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