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Goldberg: Obama's foreign policy follies

It's Day 20 for the Benghazi CSI-team hostage crisis. That's how long an FBI forensic team has been trying to gain access in Libya to what the State Department still calls a crime scene — the Obama administration's preferred term for the location of the first assassination of a U.S. ambassador since 1979 and the first successful Al Qaeda-backed attack on U.S. soil since the 9/11 strikes (our embassies and consulates are sovereign U.S. territory).

It is perhaps not accidental that the State Department cites the need to complete the investigation as an excuse to stay silent on the whole matter. "You're not going to hear anything from here unless my guidance changes…," explained Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman. "When we open a criminal investigation in the United States, generally, we don't brief out in pieces until the investigation is complete so we don't prejudice the outcome. I have to respect their process, obviously."

Obviously.

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That's helpful for an administration that doesn't want to say anything about terrorism or the Middle East other than "Osama bin Laden's dead" and "the Iraq war is over." And there's more.

"There's a chance we never make it in there," a source described as "a senior law enforcement official" told The New York Times.

"Never" may be unacceptable even to this White House, but anything past Nov. 6 will do just fine.

Unfortunately, the rest of the administration's PR operation isn't going nearly as well. It is not clear whether U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice lied or made a fool of herself — and the administration — when she blamed a YouTube video for the Sept. 11 Libya attack and denied that the administration's security precautions were scandalously insufficient.

On a slew of Sunday shows on Sept. 16, Rice said the two former Navy SEALs who were also killed were providing security. Former Navy SEAL bodyguards do not die in safe houses far from those they're protecting, just as spontaneous mobs do not orchestrate a sophisticated ground assault complete with rocket-propelled grenades.

The Libya follies are merely the most visible flashpoint of the larger unraveling of the Obama administration's foreign policy. The U.S.-Israel relationship has become a bad soap opera. Afghanistan is slipping away, as our troops are being killed by the men they're supposed to be training for the handover. Egypt is now run by the Muslim Brotherhood. Russia casually mocks and defies us. China is rapidly replacing us as an Asian hegemon and rattling sabers at our ally Japan.

Most troubling, as Fred and Kimberly Kagan document in the current issue of National Review, Iraq is rapidly becoming an Iranian vassal state. When President Obama entered office, we had nearly 150,000 troops in Iraq and much sway over the course that nation took. Now we have 150 and almost no sway. Sectarian violence is up, and Al Qaeda in Iraq is resurgent.

Meanwhile, note the Kagans (who helped craft the Iraq "surge" strategy), Iraqi airspace has become a "critical lifeline for the vicious regime of Bashar Assad" as he kills thousands of his own people in Syria.

They also note that Iraq has become an essential pathway for Iran to circumvent the sanctions intended to prevent it from pursuing a nuclear bomb.

There's a dark irony to all of this. At least until the killing of Bin Laden, Obama kept foreign policy out of the headlines so he could concentrate on domestic policy. Even after Bin Laden's death, when Obama started to tout foreign policy to compensate for a sputtering economy, the message was that under Obama, there's no drama.

The quiet yet massive increase in drone-strike killings, the reluctance to support democratic regime-change in Iran, saying yes to the Afghan surge while insisting on an expiration date, his unwillingness to push for a continued presence in Iraq, his capitulation to Bush policies on Guantanamo Bay and domestic terrorism trials, the administration's reflexive spinning of thwarted and actual terrorism attacks (the Times Square and "underwear" bombers, the Ft. Hood shooting) as "isolated incidents" — all gave the impression there was nothing to worry about with Obama at the helm.

But making problems easy to ignore isn't the same as solving them. How fitting then that the game of kick-the-can faltered just five weeks from election day.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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