The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Obama Proclaims Victory, Omits North Africa

“A decade of war is now ending,” President Obama proclaimed today in his second inaugural address. Meanwhile in North Africa, a U.S.-assisted French surge in Mali continued into its second week. It’s not unusual for the President to be tight-lipped on the wars the U.S. is fighting, but as he moves into his second term his flailing strategy in the Sahel will need to be reassessed and, more importantly, shared with the American public.

The WSJ reported that behind the scenes, anxious White House officials are saying that Obama may already be reconsidering his approach:

Events in Mali, Algeria and other countries are now spurring a reconsideration of the military role the U.S. should take on the continent, U.S. officials said.

The quick rise of Islamist militants . . . may mean that drones assigned to hunt al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan, or al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, could be reassigned to Africa.

The White House is right to be antsy. The president’s current strategy of marginalizing jihadis by empowering local moderates has seen some success, but it has also resulted in a small but formidable jihadi minority, particularly in North Africa. And the war is far from over: As the WSJ report suggests, the Obama administration is already aware that it will need to take a more active role in the region to be effective. What that role will look like is unclear. There are no good answers, and any path will be riddled with obstacles and mistakes, but Obama now has to choose a path and see that we follow it.

The change in policy will require the support and understanding of the American public. To gain that the President needs to communicate more directly with the country about what he is doing in North Africa and why. We hope that Obama’s next speech as a second-term president will shed more light on a subject he has so far been all-too happy to ignore.

Published on January 21, 2013 3:32 pm