The peril of leading from behind

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Unfortunately, those like myself who have closely followed the events in the northern tier of Africa knew that violence on this scale was an ever-present reality. From its misguided inception, United States involvement in Libya has continued with blinders on, unwilling to acknowledge that their ill conceived campaign could have such dire results. In spite of the best efforts of our brave fighting men and women and diplomatic personnel involved with the country, the Obama Administration recklessly chose to ignore the pervasive under-current of fundamentalism that many of us in Congress saw fomenting.

For over a year, I repeatedly warned the Obama Administration as the Arab Spring movement rapidly took hold throughout the Middle East that their lead from behind strategy was going to endanger our national security interests in the region. Despite what can only be described as a steady flow of violence in Libya, ranging from militia stand offs and targeted assassinations to a rash of car bombings in just the last two months, the writing was on the wall. The situation in Libya has rapidly deteriorated to the same level of chaos that existed during the tumultuous removal of Colonel Gaddafi. Warring radical elements within the country have been allowed to deeply entrench themselves within the framework of the community, plying their oppressive policies on the rest of the populace with intimidation. Meanwhile, our president has seen fit to sit back and give lofty speeches full of empty promises and platitudes, all while the northern tier of Africa slowly slips back into anarchy.
 
The simple fact of the matter is, this administration has exhibited a complete lack of strategic vision in its foreign policy, too often choosing the path of least resistance, exhibiting a reactionary posture rather than acting decisively in addressing these perilous developments. Many in Congress, including myself, have said that this is no way to lead. We have seen the president’s lack of leadership show itself as the Middle East has turned into a powder keg of militant uprisings. Our Allies are left to fend for themselves while groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood enact policies that subvert the very ideals that made the Arab Spring such a period of hope. Additionally, despotic regimes like the one in Iran has taken full advantage of the uncertain environment created by the President's indecisiveness and sent in intermediaries to further undermine the existing governments all over the Middle East.  This policy of inaction is unacceptable and only further emboldens our enemies abroad.
 
What the president fails to understand is that these threats will not subside unless we have a decisive foreign policy in place. We live in a world fraught with radical terrorists wishing to do harm to us and our allies, and anyone who disagrees with their narrow and barbaric world view. But to campaign and fundraise instead of attending daily intelligence briefings is no way to show the resolve to overcome those who wish to do us harm. Making haughty speeches without the strategic vision or decisiveness to back them up is not a foreign policy. Apologizing for U.S. values is not a foreign policy. To quote my colleague Congressman Tom Price (R-Ga.), “Absent American leadership, the world will only become a more dangerous place”.  America needs to show vision and leadership, but instead the president would rather attend fundraisers in Las Vegas and joke with David Letterman on late night television.
 
The president may have the trophy of all trophies on his political wall with the killing of Osama bin Laden, but that hasn’t stopped our enemies in Iran, in Libya and in Egypt from targeting Americans or our allies. Without presidential leadership, this is not going to end right now. It’s only going to get worse.

Burton is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.