Between his Inaugural address Monday and the State of the Union speech next month, we hope President Obama finds space to include some comments on Algeria. And Mali. And Benghazi. This isn't an attempt at foreign-policy snark. It's an effort to see the world as it is.No doubt.
Mr. Obama of late has been doing what can only be described as a mission-accomplished riff on Iraq and Afghanistan, announcing last week an accelerated timetable for getting U.S. troops out of the Afghan theater. From his election campaign through the transition, Mr. Obama has tried to keep the world and its troubles at arm's length. But with the hostage mess at a remote gas plant in Algeria, it is impossible to blink from the reality that the post-bin Laden al Qaeda is still with us and an active threat to U.S. interests.
When the French sent troops and planes to Mali last week to resist a seizure of that nation by al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), the U.S. support it expected didn't come. Among the sotto voce reasons offered for the turndown was that no immediate U.S. interests are at stake in Mali. It's a point often pressed of late by the neo-realpolitik school of American foreign policy. Absent obvious U.S. interest, the world is on its own.
The geopolitical strategists at al Qaeda promptly upped the ante of national interest. In what's described as a well-planned offensive, they grabbed nationals from 10 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Austria, Japan and Malaysia. With the Algerian government tightly controlling information, news of the hostages and their fate has been uncertain.
An official with the Obama Administration said the U.S. government urged Algeria to be "cautious" and mindful of the hostages' safety. Who could disagree? But let us also posit that the Administration's attitude toward these recent events looks increasingly unworldly.
In September, terrorists murdered U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, and it's now clear that the U.S. policy of a "light footprint" in Libya underestimated that threat. Earlier last year, al Qaeda seized the northern half of Mali. Now the Algerian raid shows how committed terrorists can squeeze the tails of the world's big dogs.
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