He would practice "smart diplomacy," Barack Obama said. He would reach out to America's critics and adversaries, and -- through appeasement, flattery and his personal charm -- get them to modify their behavior. "The day I'm inaugurated, Muslim hostility will ease," then-Sen. Obama told New Hampshire Public Radio.
The Obama administration has not always distinguished between Islamists -- who want to establish a world-wide Caliphate governed by Islamic law, in which non-Muslims would be forcibly converted, made second class citizens or killed -- and Muslims who think religious tolerance is no threat to Islam.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been guests at the White House and been used as intermediaries in peace talks with the Taliban. Though it was founded by an admirer of Adolf Hitler and some of its members have the same goals as al-Qaida's, the administration considers the Muslim Brotherhood "moderate" because it seeks power first through the ballot box (as Hitler did).
The most prominent Muslim Brother is Muhammad Morsi, who is president of Egypt in part because Mr. Obama abandoned the corrupt, authoritarian but pro-American Hosni Mubarak. This recalls when President Jimmy Carter, believing the Ayatollah Khomeini to be a moderate reformer, helped him push the shah of Iran off the Peacock Throne.
There were many signs before 9/11/2012 that Mr. Obama's outreach was failing:
• In Muslim countries, the percentage of people with a favorable opinion of the United States fell to 15 from 25 between June 2009 and June 2012, according to Pew's annual poll.
• Iran's pursuit of nukes has not slowed because Mr. Obama thought a soft line toward the mullahs was more likely to get them to abandon it. When tens of thousands of Iranians demonstrated for democracy, President Obama ignored their pleas for help.
• Mr. Obama tilted toward the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel, a policy shift that has produced only an escalation of Palestinian demands.
Then the administration was caught flat-footed when "smart" diplomacy imploded on 9/11/2012.
It shouldn't have been. The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans and the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo were planned in advance and for reasons other than ire over a YouTube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, according to Libyan and Egyptian officials, diplomats and intelligence experts. The State Department had "credible information" two days before the attacks that U.S. missions were being targeted, said a British newspaper, citing "senior diplomatic sources."
The purpose of the Cairo protest was to demand the release of Omar abdel Rahman, the "blind sheikh" who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, said Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Jihadis were planning to attack the U.S. and Israeli embassies, Egyptian intelligence reported a week before the attack, but it isn't known whether that warning was passed on to U.S. diplomats. The embassy did get a heads up from U.S. intelligence a day before.
A Libyan security officer said he warned the Benghazi consulate of the presence of armed jihadis in the city three days before it was attacked. There's "no doubt" the attack "was planned by foreigners," Libya's president said. It's purpose was to avenge the death of Abu Yaya al- Libi (the Libyan), al-Qaida's No. 2, in a drone attack in June, some experts said.
Yet, as late as last Sunday, senior Obama aides insisted the attacks were a spontaneous response to the Muhammad video. The day after the attacks, Mr. Obama expressed doubt Egypt was still an ally. Were the circumstances not so tragic, it would have been hilarious to watch State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland try to walk his statement back. The president compared his campaign workers to the diplomats under siege. He didn't let the crisis interfere with his campaigning, or his fund-raising parties.
Did shock from the collapse of his Mideast policy make the president behave erratically? If Mr. Obama hadn't skipped many of his daily intelligence briefings, he might not have been so surprised.
Democrats thought foreign policy would be an advantage for them this year. Now it appears that the only thing that could make Clint Eastwood's skit at the GOP convention more apt is if he'd draped an empty suit over the empty chair.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-262-1479).