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Friday, March 25, 2011

Failure to lead

Once again on an important issue, President Obama is failing to lead. We've seen this rodeo before on the stimulus, health care, this year's budget, entitlement reform, and now we're seeing it in the mishandling of our actions in Libya.

As Charles Krauthammer points out today, so much of the incoherence on what we're trying to accomplish in Libya stems from the necessity that Obama saw in getting the patina of international approval for whatever we do. The result is this mish-mash from which our supposed partners are scrambling to back away from.
Well, let's see how that paper multilateralism is doing. The Arab League is already reversing itself, criticizing the use of force it had just authorized. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, is shocked -- shocked! -- to find that people are being killed by allied airstrikes. This reaction was dubbed mystifying by one commentator, apparently born yesterday and thus unaware that the Arab League has forever been a collection of cynical, warring, unreliable dictatorships of ever-shifting loyalties. A British soccer mob has more unity and moral purpose. Yet Obama deemed it a great diplomatic success that the League deigned to permit others to fight and die to save fellow Arabs for whom 19 of 21 Arab states have yet to lift a finger. And what about that brilliant U.N. resolution?

* Russia's Vladimir Putin is already calling the Libya operation a medieval crusade.

* China is calling for a cease-fire in place -- which would completely undermine the allied effort by leaving Gaddafi in power, his people at his mercy and the country partitioned and condemned to ongoing civil war.

* Brazil joined China in that call for a cease-fire. This just hours after Obama ended his fawning two-day Brazil visit. Another triumph of presidential personal diplomacy.

And how about NATO? Let's see. As of this writing, Britain wanted the operation to be led by NATO. France adamantly disagreed, citing Arab sensibilities. Germany wanted no part of anything, going so far as to pull four of its ships from NATO command in the Mediterranean. France and Germany walked out of a NATO meeting on Monday, while Norway had planes in Crete ready to go but refused to let them fly until it had some idea who the hell is running the operation. And Turkey, whose prime minister four months ago proudly accepted the Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, has been particularly resistant to the Libya operation from the beginning.
There are people who would probably support assertive action in Libya, but they are mostly Republicans and Obama's failure to seek any sort of congressional consultation or approval has left them with more questions than reasons to support his actions. And the Democrats are divided between their natural wish to support a party leader and their natural inclination to oppose assertive American military action.

The result is the confusion we're seeing now.
nd as for the United States, who knows what American policy is. Administration officials insist we are not trying to bring down Gaddafi, even as the president insists that he must go. Although on Tuesday Obama did add "unless he changes his approach." Approach, mind you. In any case, for Obama, military objectives take a back seat to diplomatic appearances. The president is obsessed with pretending that we are not running the operation -- a dismaying expression of Obama's view that his country is so tainted by its various sins that it lacks the moral legitimacy to ... what? Save Third World people from massacre? Obama seems equally obsessed with handing off the lead role. Hand off to whom? NATO? Quarrelling amid Turkish resistance (see above), NATO still can't agree on taking over command of the airstrike campaign, which is what has kept the Libyan rebels alive. This confusion is purely the result of Obama's decision to get America into the war and then immediately relinquish American command. Never modest about himself, Obama is supremely modest about his country. America should be merely "one of the partners among many," he said Monday. No primus inter pares for him. Even the Clinton administration spoke of America as the indispensable nation. And it remains so. Yet at a time when the world is hungry for America to lead -- no one has anything near our capabilities, experience and resources -- America is led by a man determined that it should not. A man who dithers over parchment. Who starts a war from which he wants out right away. Good God. If you go to take Vienna, take Vienna. If you're not prepared to do so, better then to stay home and do nothing.
It turns out that change we can believe in is more like change we can hand off to someone else as quickly as possible so no one will get mad at us.

1 comment:

tfhr said...

The "Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights"? I'd never heard of that one but it must be about as "on the level" as the Nobel Peace Prize or the Obama Prize for Transparency in Government.