Friday, February 25, 2011

Obama and Inaction in Libya

Leon Wieseltier has a thoughtful, if flawed, piece out about Obama's perceived lack of action in the midst of the revolutions in the Middle East. Now, Wieseltier comes from the Marty Peretz school of thought that has never seen a situation in the Middle East that it didn't want US intervention on, and I think ultimately his argument comes across as reckless in the sheer depth of intervention he seems to be advocating from the Obama Administration. He goes ahead to unequivocally argue that we should, "let NATO planes fly over Tripoli and shoot down any Libyan aircraft that makes war on the Libyan population," which I think is an example of thinking too much with your heart instead of your head. Sure, it might seem the morally courageous thing to do, but doing so also probably turns a bad situation into an outright international crisis when Qaddafi inevitably responds by taking hostage and possibly killing the American citizens who are still trying to get out of the country. Creating a no-fly zone is an idea worth considering (and one that appears will implemented at one point or another), but it's important to think about the repercussions there. I do agree with Wieseltier that there is a certain lack of urgency in the Obama Administration's response (not atypical), particularly with the comments about waiting until Monday to confer in Geneva with our 'allies and partners' to coordinate a response to a situation in which 3 days is practically an eternity in terms of what Qaddafi can do to the opposition (and is doing).

Wieseltier does make some good points that are worth thinking about. He argues is that Obama is making a mistake by erring too much on the side of caution for fear of making the revolutions appear to be an American or Western creation, and that he may be too driven by the desire to be the anti-Bush. "The awful irony is that Obama is more haunted by the history of foreign policy than are many people in the Middle East, who look towards him for support in their genuinely epochal struggle," he writes. We don't know the extent of what the U.S. is doing in the Middle East right now in relation to these revolutions (because a lot of what is being done is probably being done through the CIA and Special-Ops forces), but there does appear to be a certain amount of fecklessness about the American response right now, nothing more than stern words cheerleaded from the sidelines.

And I wonder if perhaps that is in itself just a reflection of the reality of a multi-polar world. We as Americans are used to huffing and puffing and blowing the house down, because post-World War II we truly were the 'leader of the free world.' But every hegemon's star fades eventually, and while we still dictate a tremendous amount of geopolitical power, it might be worth considering that Obama is simply acting within the constraints of the influence his office and his country holds over the situation in the Middle East.

I think, in the end, this is sort of what we signed up for in Obama. After eight years of Bush, the cowboy who acted on gut instincts and only paused to consider the repercussions after the fact (Iraq says hi), what was appealing in Obama was a temperment that aided itself to caution, pragmatism, and planning. Obama is a naturally risk-averse person, every decision carefully weighed, never wanting to over-expose himself and unnecessarily lose leverage. From conducting months-long 'reviews' of war strategy in Afghanistan, to sitting the '09 Iran protests out, to now this relatively quiet response to the revolutions in the Middle East, I think he's more or less acting like we figured he would act. Except that now, in this moment where we all feel like we're at a moment in history where things are changing in a profoundly big way, all of a sudden everyone wants a little more of that feel-good Bush adventurism.

1 comment:

TJE said...

Do you miss him yet?