President Obama has at last said that Libyan dictator Moammar Daffy has lost the legitimacy to rule.
President Obama was elected in part because voters liked the way he talked. Therefore it is ironic that he’s been unable to get the words right since the Middle East erupted.
In case you missed it, Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic has the ultimate commentary on Mr. Obama’s pathetic rhetoric. Headlined “We Choose Consultations,” the Wieseltier piece begins:
“This violence must stop.” So President Obama declared the other day about the depravity in Tripoli. This “must” is a strange mixture of stridency and passivity. It is the deontic locution familiar from the editorial pages of newspapers, where people who have no power to change the course of events demand that events change their course. This “must” denotes an order, or a permission, or an obligation, or a wish, or a will. It does not denote a plan. It includes no implication, no expectation, of action. It is the rhetoric of futility: this infection must stop, this blizzard must stop, this madness must stop. But this infection, this blizzard, this madness, like this violence, will not stop, because its logic is to grow. It will stop only if it is stopped. Must the murder of his own people by this madman stop, Mr. President? Then stop it.
I don’t think the president could unilaterally stop the “violence” (even if he were willing to do anything unilaterally, which he isn’t). But he could be less feckless. A no-fly zone, peut-etre (even the French are doing better than the U.S. in this crisis)? This is an embarrassing moment for the United States. More important, it’s a dangerous one. Be nice to have a president who could try to bend the arc of history (Mr. Obama loves to natter on about that arc of history) in a way that could make the world safer. But he can’t. The world is becoming more dangerous by the minute on Mr. Obama’s watch.
Wieseltier gets to the root Obama’s paralysis:
Why is Obama so disinclined to use the power at his disposal? His diffidence about humanitarian emergencies is one of the most mystifying features of his presidency, and one of its salient characteristics. These crises-in Tehran two years ago, in Cairo last month, in Tripoli now-produce in him a lame sort of lawyerliness. He lists the relevant rights and principles and then turns to procedural questions, like those consultations. The official alibi for Obama’s patience with Qaddafi’s atrocity is his concern for the Americans who are still stranded within Qaddafi’s reach; I was amused to learn from a friend that the spin out of the White House includes the suggestion that Obama’s restraint is actually the wisdom of the hostage negotiator. But Obama’s statement about Libya suggests another explanation for his slow pace. This was its climax: “So let me be clear. The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region. This change doesn’t represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life.”
They are fighting authoritarianism, but he is fighting imperialism. Who in their right mind believes that this change does represent the work of the United States or any foreign power? To be sure, there are conspiracy theorists in the region who are not in their right mind, and will hold such an anti-American view; but this anti-Americanism is not an empirical matter. They will hate us whatever we do. I do not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of American intervention. I see an American president with a paralyzing fear that it will.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a story that seeks to find a less damning explanation for the president’s ineffectiveness: The administration had to be careful because there were still U.S. citizens in Libya. Now that these people have been rescued, the Obama administration is preparing for a better response. And what might that be?
As Obama called world leaders, [Ambassador Susan] Rice, at the United Nations, worked to ensure that the Security Council adopted a strong resolution against the violence. …
Among other options, she listed radio-frequency jamming, expelling the country’s ambassador from the United Nations, freezing assets, imposing an arms embargo, implementing a travel ban on officials, and threatening war crimes prosecution. …
Obama has now ordered the intelligence community to reallocate satellites, eavesdropping resources and other intelligence assets to Libya. One administration official said, “The message to Gaddafi is, ‘We’re watching you.’???”
Yeah, that’ll get Gaddafi’s attention, won’t it? More clear-eyed, Michael Walsh, who also writes as David Kahane, has a devastating take on the 3 a.m. call of the presidential campaign: neither Obama nor Mrs. Clinton was ready to answer it:
Once again, President “Present” has signally failed to lead, preferring instead to hide behind a fog of “consultations with allies.” True, on Saturday he finally — in a phone call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel — called for Khadafy to step down, and also took diplomatic action against the beleaguered regime, issuing an executive order that blocks property and other transactions.
Insiders say that Obama hesitated to take a public stand against the doomed dictator for fear that US diplomats might be taken hostage. But a great power can’t conduct a robust foreign policy in fear; that way lies the path of Jimmy Carter, whom Obama is coming more and more to resemble. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out recently, America is starting to look like Switzerland in its international irrelevance. Is that what Obama meant by “fundamental change”?
Walsh notes that Mr. Obama’s UN ambassador Susan Rice “blew off a Security Council meeting on the Libyan crisis in order to attend a UN panel discussion on ‘global sustainability’ in South Africa. The Roxy had better amateur nights than this.”
This is all happening too early. We still have a minimum of two more years of the Obama administration (maybe six more). The Iranian hostage crisis occurred in the final year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency (though, to be fair to President Obama, Carter made the mistakes that contributed to the hostage taking earlier). The hostages were let go only after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office. This time, help is not on the way any time soon.