President Obama is in Paris for what he hopes will be an important milestone in his presidency: an agreement on global climate. But what is happening across the Mediterranean will likely do more to shape the way the future views his presidential legacy. ISIS is entrenching itself in the chaos Obama created in Libya, just as it took shape in the chaos he allowed to develop in Syria. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Since announcing its presence in February in Sirte, the city on Libya’s Mediterranean coast has become the first that the militant group governs outside of Syria and Iraq. Its presence there has grown over the past year from 200 eager fighters to a roughly 5,000-strong contingent which includes administrators and financiers, according to estimates by Libyan intelligence officials, residents and activists in the area.
The group has exploited the deep divisions in Libya, which has two rival governments, to create this new stronghold of violent religious extremism just across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy. Along the way, they scored a string of victories—defeating one of the strongest fighting forces in the country and swiftly crushing a local popular revolt.
That the President thinks a largely symbolic and ceremonial gabfest in Paris means more to the future than the unravelling of order and the rise of fanaticism in North Africa and the Middle East speaks volumes about his priorities and vision.
The gap between aspiration and accomplishment is the most striking feature of this Administration’s foreign policy. President Obama was going to put nuclear weapons on the glide path to elimination. He was going to rebuild relations between Americans and Muslims and promote the emergence of moderate Islamist democracy across the Middle East. He was going to end the confrontation with Russia based on a new and more understanding relationship with Vladimir Putin. He was going to win the war in Afghanistan and close out America’s remaining military conflicts even as he reduced global jihadism to a few remnants and “junior varsity” wannabes. He was going to make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
President Obama’s term still has another 14 months to run. Yet it seems less and less likely that he will make significant progress on any of these goals. If so, the outline of his foreign policy legacy is already clear. Future historians and policy makers are more likely to study how we can avoid repeating President Obama’s mistakes than how we can recreate his achievements. In retirement, President Obama and President George W. Bush may find they have much in common.