For several years now I have proposed this hypothesis: when people who have neither the knowledge nor experience to grasp the realities of foreign policy set out to conduct it, they will act as though they are living in a fiction.
Today, we are all absorbing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi. The headline reads that the committee found that the attack on the consulate was “preventable.” By implication, but not quite explicitly, the report is saying that the deaths of the U. S. Ambassador and three others were the consequence Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s manifest incompetence.
Analyzing the report in The New Yorker, Amy Davidson argues, correctly that the administration failed because it treated the situation as it wished it was, not as it was:
The Senate Intelligence Committee report on what happened in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, is, in many ways, a catalogue of what can happen when one decides to act as though a situation is what one wishes it to be, not what it is. Benghazi, the report sensibly points out, was a dangerous place, and a lot of people knew it. But it was also supposed to be an enchanted place, the birthplace of a rebellion America had generously fostered and the home of scrappy militias who were grateful to us. We had, supposedly, already arrived at the happily-ever-after part of the Libyan tale. Maybe that’s why the Obama Administration, in particular the State Department—led by Hillary Clinton—didn’t consider all the ways the plot could turn, or that the epilogue might involve the attacks on an American diplomatic installation and a C.I.A. annex.
Davidson understands clearly that Hillary Clinton was responsible:
But her [Clinton’s] reluctance to change course may have been influenced by her heavy investment in the decision to take military action in Libya; the former defense secretary Robert Gates writes in his new memoir that hers was the voice that swayed the balance. (Joe Biden was on the other side.) Libya was one of the things she had managed in her stint as Secretary of State, for which she had been so praised. Also, again, Libya was supposed to be something we were done with; now it will be a question Hillary Clinton has to contend with in 2016, and, in fairness, rightly so.
And Davidson is also correct to see President Obama’s failure in the same context. Obama never understood the situation in Libya for what it was. Within the fiction he had conjured, he was not required to invoke the War Powers Act before intervening in the first place. He acted as though the conflict did not, Davidson writes, “rise to the level of ‘hostilities’.”
This is something Obama has to answer for, too. He made the decision to intervene militarily in Libya without invoking the War Powers Act—and that, and not some phantom version of the talking points, is the purloined letter in this case….
By saying that he didn’t have to get Congress’s permission because whatever we were doing didn’t rise to the level of “hostilities,” he was willing it to always be so.
Unfortunately, for America, wishing did not make it so.