American intervention in North Africa: creating more "blowback"?

By John Watts

Senator Rand Paul made a forceful debut on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday in hearings on the Benghazi disaster in which four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya, were murdered by Muslim extremists.

In interviews leading up to the hearings, Senator Paul had promised to grill Secretary of State Clinton on the catastrophe in Libya, while some interviews showed conventional Republican senators giving signals they were going to go easy on Secretary Clinton, whose ill health postponed her appearance before the Senate and House to answer questions on the foreign policy foul-up.

Clinton demurred when asked to explain why Americans were so blatantly misled on the true nature of the attack. Initially, it had been reported by the White House that the attack came out of a spontaneous protest outside the consulate. It has been shown that the White House was aware that the attack was in actuality a terrorist operation. However, the administration held to the “spontaneous protest” storyline for weeks until information came out that it was in fact a planned operation executed by upwards of 100 well-armed jihadist militants.

Secretary Clinton also feigned ignorance when Senator Paul asked if she would provide information regarding possible weapons shipments from Libya to Turkey. She implied that she was not aware and that sort of activity would not be in the purview of the Department of State.

However, during her testimony, she also indicated that further involvement in North Africa via foreign aid and military training would be necessary to quell militant uprisings. She said that a “Pandora’s box” had been opened in North Africa because of weapons in the hands of militants who had obtained them from Gadhafi’s “warehouses”. Without any sense of irony, she also mentioned that the US was trying to track down weapons it had shipped to rebels in Libya.

Any way one looks at it, the abundant supply of weapons available for use by terrorists across North Africa and the Middle East is at least partly the consequence of American actions. In this case, the United States directly provided the materiel support to anti-Gadhafi Libyans. As the de facto leader of NATO, the United States led the heavy involvement on the side of an essentially Muslim tribal uprising against a decrepit military strongman.

It is worth noting though, that not long ago we had been working on the side of Gadhafi to suppress many of the same type of groups we have aided in the uprising – groups we would otherwise classify as “terrorists” or “al Qaeda-inspired.” The double-dealing is not lost on the Muslim street. Opting to guide policy on the whims of vague domestic support for “democracy,” when in reality we are shoring up or attempting to install regimes more amenable to our economic interests in the region, is not wise and certainly not principled – it always invites “blowback”.

When extremists, indignant about involvement in their affairs and the subjugation of their leaders to the interests of Western powers, have the opportunity and means to strike back, they will. This blowback is apparent in situations like the Benghazi terror attack. Another example would be Mali, where our support of French military intervention makes us peripherally involved. Sensibly restraining our involvement in the internal affairs of foreign peoples goes against the ingrained Washington mentality of managing and directing the world. Those who understand that government is not the appropriate means for remaking society in this country should understand this, but oftentimes the biggest opponents of federal intervention in domestic matters support global crusades to remake other societies in our image.

The admirable bias toward non-intervention is a strong current in American political thought. The argument has been made by numerous American statesmen, but perhaps encapsulated most elegantly by John Quincy Adams:

“She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.”

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