Guarded Responses vs Leadership

I’ve got an on again off again relationship with Christopher Hitchens’ writings.  It frequently depends on the topic and frankly, how much he’s probably been drinking at that time.  He’s arrogant, curmudgeonly, erudite, and smug but always interesting to read.  Here’s something to chew on from his latest at Salon called ‘Is Barrack Obama Secretly Swiss?” on the President’s overly guarded response to the recent Arab uprisings.

This is not merely a matter of the synchronizing of announcements. The Obama administration also behaves as if the weight of the United States in world affairs is approximately the same as that of Switzerland. We await developments. We urge caution, even restraint. We hope for the formation of an international consensus. And, just as there is something despicable about the way in which Swiss bankers change horses, so there is something contemptible about the way in which Washington has been affecting—and perhaps helping to bring about—American impotence. Except that, whereas at least the Swiss have the excuse of cynicism, American policy manages to be both cynical and naive.

This has been especially evident in the case of Libya. For weeks, the administration dithered over Egypt and calibrated its actions to the lowest and slowest common denominators, on the grounds that it was difficult to deal with a rancid old friend and ally who had outlived his usefulness. But then it became the turn of Muammar Qaddafi—an all-round stinking nuisance and moreover a long-term enemy—and the dithering began all over again. Until Wednesday Feb. 23, when the president made a few anodyne remarks that condemned “violence” in general but failed to cite Qaddafi in particular—every important statesman and stateswoman in the world had been heard from, with the exception of Obama. And his silence was hardly worth breaking. Echoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had managed a few words of her own, he stressed only that the need was for a unanimous international opinion, as if in the absence of complete unity nothing could be done, or even attempted. This would hand an automatic veto to any of Qaddafi’s remaining allies. It also underscored the impression that the opinion of the United States was no more worth hearing than that of, say, Switzerland. Secretary Clinton was then dispatched to no other destination than Geneva, where she will meet with the U.N. Human Rights Council—an absurd body that is already hopelessly tainted with Qaddafi’s membership.

I have to admit that I’ve had my own concerns about our tepid national response to the incredible thuggish brutality going on in Libya.  First, there’s the news that helicopters were shooting at citizens in the streets. Then, there were the executions of Libyan soldiers who refused to follow the orders to shoot at citizens.  Finally, there’s the news of mercenaries paid sums to commit violence on whoever they find in the streets.  How much does it take for one to come out and say this is just plain evil and should stop now or else?

Obama’s made one tepid statement on Libya as well as one tepid statement on events at home that concern the stripping of collective bargaining rights from US workers.  Both should be low hanging fruit for any Democratic politician. Libya murdered all those Syracuse students in the Lockerbie bombing.  Unions fund and work tirelessly for their Democratic candidates including this President.  Obama’s sure coming up short on words these days for a man with legendary status as a speech giver and TV personality.  His new press secretary Jay Carney appears to be a Milquetoast spokesmodel also whose bland nonresponse responses must reflect the dithering at the top.

Okay, well, back to Hitchens for the strong words …

Evidently a little sensitive to the related charges of being a) taken yet again completely by surprise, b) apparently without a policy of its own, and c) morally neuter, the Obama administration contrived to come up with an argument that maximized every form of feebleness. Were we to have taken a more robust or discernible position, it was argued, our diplomatic staff in Libya might have been endangered. In other words, we decided to behave as if they were already hostages! The governments of much less powerful nations, many with large expatriate populations as well as embassies in Libya, had already condemned Qaddafi’s criminal behavior, and the European Union had considered sanctions, but the United States (which didn’t even charter a boat for the removal of staff until Tuesday) felt obliged to act as if it were the colonel’s unwilling prisoner. I can’t immediately think of any precedent for this pathetic “doctrine,” but I can easily see what a useful precedent it sets for any future rogue regime attempting to buy time. Leave us alone—don’t even raise your voice against us—or we cannot guarantee the security of your embassy. (It wouldn’t be too soon, even now, for the NATO alliance to make it plain to Qaddafi that if he even tried such a thing, he would lose his throne, and his ramshackle armed forces, and perhaps his worthless life, all in the course of one afternoon.)

I’ve always thought Hitchens to be  a war monger.  His foreign policy diatribes are usually way over the top for my taste but I have to admit that this particular opinion piece is spot on.  If we can’t use our position as the world’s superpower to at least publicly condemn these kinds of atrocities, what good are we?  There  has to be more to do here than just wait around until the tide shows some sign of turning.   I’m not suggesting we invade Tripoli but some kind of sign of moral comprehension of the situation–even if it’s just a toughly worded condemnation–would certainly create a signal that the US will not stand around silent while some crazed dictator slaughters his people.  Right now, it just seems like the U.S. is just going to sit on its thumbs and watch the slaughter.    White House responses to Egypt, Libya, and the suppression of labor in the U.S. feel like a series of  “The Pet Goat” reading moments.   How guarded of a response do you have to make to thugs?

update: Obama slaps sanctions on Libyan government

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday imposed sanctions on Libya’s government for its violent repression of a popular uprising, signing an executive order blocking property and transactions related to the country.

#Obama signs executive order blocking property and prohibiting transactions related to #Libya


27 Comments on “Guarded Responses vs Leadership”

  1. Swannie says:

    Maybe mr O was a beneficiary of the 5 million Ghaddafi gave Farrakhan.

  2. Minkoff Minx says:

    Dak, thank you for highlighting Hitchens because I would have missed it. (Don’t much care for him either.) Although, I would not think all the political upheaval in the region, is much a surprise. It seems to me that this is something that has been building over the years. If you ask me…the President should have had a response and reaction planned out when he took office. I think there is a reason all these countries have dictators that have been in power around the same amount of time. (That 30 to 40 year range.) It is because freedom is contagious, and the people can only take so much before they begin to revolt. The sad part about it, is over in the ME it seems the same type of regime steps in to take the others place. The result is a population that thinks they are getting something better…but mostly they get something that is the same old crap they had before. (Or worse.)

    • dakinikat says:

      I told my dad last night that I believe it’s because they’ve got fairly young populations and a lot of them from my age on down have been educated in Europe and the U.S. They’ve seen the difference and they want that now in their homeland for their families. You can’t just send them off for an education in an open and democratic society and then bring them back to be professionals while treating every one like it’s still the 3rd century.

  3. jillforhill says:

    The only thing that will stop this killer is invading. Statements and investigations will do nothing. We are looking into military optiond because that will stop him. It seems that everyone was okay risking the lives of Americans in Libya. What statement could we have given that would stop the genocide?

    • dakinikat says:

      I’m hoping NATO or the UN will do some kind of joint action. I don’t think we should act independently at all but in unison with other nations or pressure the African or Arab Leagues to deal with it.

      • TheRock says:

        The OAU and ECOWAS have already made it plain that they are willing to provide the manpower and the organization, if the world community will provide the equipment and air support to engage in some of these very bad campaigns.

      • TheRock says:

        The link from the Guardian was taken down about that statement by ECOWAS… 😦

      • dakinikat says:

        I think there might be a problem with The Guardian Links … I was trying to read the French draft and I can’t get to it.

  4. jillforhill says:

    I wish it could be done in unison,but I doubt it. Statements and actions are two different things. As the genocide continues the only option will be the military and that is quickly approaching. I think when that happens the some people who are screaming for America to stop the genocide will noy like the military option.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Gaddafi has been slaughtering protesters for days now. It didn’t just start. This President is a disgrace. He should be impeached. At the very least he should have pressed for NATO and UN Peacekeeping forces to go in.

    The no-fly zone should have gone into effect as soon as it was clear that Gaddafi was hiring mercenaries to kill his own people and forcing his military to shoot civilians.

    I’m ashamed to have this man as POTUS. It’s sickening.

    • bostonboomer says:

      He couldn’t even get our own people out of there–every other country had gotten their citizens out by the time the US finally did something. US citizens were sitting on a boat for 4 days, while other countries were flying people out or using larger boats that could handle the bad weather.

      If I were Hillary, I’d resign in protest. I hope she doesn’t support this behavior by the President.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    To top it all off, the Obamas had a big party at the WH–something to do with Motown music–while people were being slaughtered in Libya.

  7. WomanVoter says:

    RT@michaeljtotten Seif is Libya’s own Baghdad Bob:
    http://tinyurl.com/4dvs5sn
    #Libya #Libyans #Feb17 #Gaddafi #Crimes #Seif #Saif

    Very interesting interview by Saif or is it Seif, a person that isn’t elected to any position, even dog catcher, but he is going to get the protesters, whom he refers to as ‘terrorists’ ala GW Bush.

  8. dakinikat says:

    AFP > The Libyan ambassador to the UN, Mohammed Shalgham, has defected. #Libya

  9. Rick Reynolds says:

    One wonders if we’ll ever hear a presidential response to this. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/26/world/middleeast/26iraq.html

    Well… I wouldn’t wonder too much.