When a suicide bomber killed 241 American soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan wrote, "Perhaps we didn't appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and the complexity of the problems that made the Middle East such a jungle. In the weeks immediately after the bombing, I believe the last thing that we should do was turn tail and leave. Yet the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics forced us to rethink our policy there."
Reagan was very reluctant to remove American forces after the Beirut tragedy, fearing it would be interpreted as a sign of weakness, but pull them, he did. In Reagan's opinion, the Middle East, due to its very cultural, religious, and political nature, was a place in which further American involvement would've only worsened things.
Reagan's observation about the unstable nature of the Middle East remains true to this day. When Libya Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were brutally murdered in Benghazi last week, the attacks occurred in places where the United States has continued to use a heavy interventionist hand. Both the Bush and Obama administrations had supported dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and last year President Obama gave moral and material support to Libyan rebels, who many believed were just as nasty as the tyrant they overthrew. The United States' intervention in Libya was a lose-lose proposition for our nation from the very start. Regardless of whether these murderous acts were carried out by radical Islamists who were upset about a silly movie or simply an anti-American mob, the lesson learned should be as clear to us as it was to Reagan: We need to leave.
What does the United States stand to gain by sending dollars, soldiers, and resources to countries like Libya, or so-called allies like Egypt and Pakistan? You will continue to find an army of Washington experts who insist America must remain heavily engaged in the Islamic world, lest we risk ruin. But what these experts fail to recognize is that U.S. involvement in the Middle East has produced nothing but ruin for nearly a half-century.
How do you fix this? Start a war? We've done that, twice. What would we solve? Would the region finally change? No, that region will never change, and to the degree that it can ever improve, it will do so far more through lessons learned in our absence. You cannot impose liberty on others, and you certainly can't do so when they don't want it. Those who want it will have to fight for it themselves. In fact, they must fight for it themselves.
When the news of the slain Americans was reported last week, I could not help but recall Reagan's words in 1983: "If there would be some rethinking of policy before our men die, we would be a lot better off. If that policy had changed towards more of a neutral position and neutrality, those 241 Marines would be alive today."
A primary job of ambassadors is to avoid war. Diplomacy exists because talking is always preferable to armed conflict, or as Winston Churchill put it, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." Considering this, Christopher Stevens' professional purpose makes his murder even more barbaric and offensive. Those responsible should be dealt a swift justice, and Libya should be held accountable for its failure to provide adequate security for U.S. diplomats. But after that, any political alliance should end. At a bare minimum, foreign aid should come to a halt.
Human beings and their cultures vary. Human nature does not. There are certain situations in life for which there is no solution. There are certain situations in this world that America simply cannot fix. Libya is one of them. And it is not the only one.
Much, if not most, of the Islamic world remains as irrational or unpredictable as Reagan thought it was in 1983. Our constant intervention has exacerbated, not reduced, these tensions, as we give comfort and aid to dictators and then give the same help to the tyrannical mobs that overthrow them. This is the foreign policy of fools. We should have quit trying to "fix" this part of the world a long time ago.
And if now is not the time to quit meddling in the internal affairs of a nation like Libya, then I can't imagine when that time will be.