The Magazine

The Obama Vacuum

Feb 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 20 • By LEE SMITH
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

No one could have been surprised when Algerian security forces laid siege to the terrorists at the oil facility, apparently making little distinction between the terrorists and the foreign nationals held hostage. It was this typically hamfisted approach that, between the government and their Islamist rivals, was responsible for more than 100,000 dead during Algeria’s decade-long civil war in the 1990s. What both sides learned was that killing Algerian civilians alienates the general population. Thus, the first thing the terrorists did was release all the Algerian nationals, leaving only foreigners, whom neither the terrorists nor Algerian security forces cared much if they killed.

Oddly, the Algerian government, run by a cadre of generals, has earned mostly positive reviews from Western journalists and analysts for its performance​—​as if refusing to negotiate with terrorists were in itself a sufficient strategy. The White House, at least publicly, has muted any criticisms it might have, even though Algiers embarked on its “rescue” mission without consulting Washington or any other foreign capital whose citizens were taken.

Among other reasons for its silence, the Obama administration wants help from Algeria in Mali. It is unlikely to receive it, however, because the regime in Algiers cares only for its own stability, not regional stability. Algeria is little concerned that some of the Polisario fighters it supports in the Western Sahara have found their way into AQIM units fighting in Mali. The point is to keep their own realm secure regardless of the instability they create elsewhere. The vacuum that the Obama administration has left in the region, from Libya to Syria, is not going to be filled by Arab security services like Algeria’s. Instead, they are a large part of the problem.

So Hillary got that right: There are consequences, dangerous ones, when America is absent. The Obama administration has a lot to answer for.

Recent Blog Posts