Thursday, March 17, 2011

Standing by while Libya burns

Last Friday, Obama claimed that he is "tightening the noose" around Qadhafi. Really? All evidence suggests that Qadhafi and his mercenaries are actually doing the tightening--around the last opposition stronghold in Benghazi.  Not only are we failing to aid this courageous uprising against a brutal thug, failing to assert our interests and values in this changing Middle Eastern landscape, but our president has shown his word means nothing. He has declared which side we are on, called for Qadhafi to go, but not followed through in any substantive way. This will not go unnoticed.  As Larry Diamond puts it, "If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?"

Leon Wieseltier weighs in with one of the most powerful critiques of Obama's handling of the would-be Libyan revolution ("Darkness," The New Republic Online. March 11, 2011). [See excerpt below]

Fareed Zakaria explains why American interests are at stake in the outcome in Libya ("The Libyan Conundrum," Time. March 10, 2011).

Larry Diamond argues that Libya is our business first and foremost because Obama has made it clear where the U.S. stands, and not backing up its words with action sends a dangerous signal. ("Obama's Moment of Truth," The New Republic. March 15, 2011)
Hussein Ibish, who has been calling for strong American action from the beginning of the uprising, wonders whether the window of opportunity might have already passed. ("Can a No-Fly Zone Still Fly Today? Now Lebanon. March 15, 2011).

Michael Totten contends that Arabs bear a large responsibility for American hesitation to assert itself against Qadhafi.  ("What About Our Hearts and Minds?" New York Sun. March 14, 2011).

Wieseltier writes:
We will not act to prevent a crime against humanity because by doing so we will offend—who, exactly? Not the Libyans who are clamoring for Western assistance, or the Egyptians who looked to us for unequivocal support in their fight for freedom, or the Iranians who made a similar mistake. No, we will offend only a certain doctrinaire Western notion of what the contemporary Arab world thinks about the West, a notion that the democratic upheavals in the Arab world are making manifestly obsolete. We will offend not their assumptions, but our assumptions about their assumptions...
[Obama] declares that Qaddafi must go and that we will stand with the Libyan people, and then he does nothing. No, that’s not right. He consults and consults, and his staff works round the clock, and economic sanctions are instituted against the rampaging dictator who has tens of billions of dollars in cash. Obama is prepared to act, just not consequentially. He does not want the responsibility for any Arab outcome. He says they must do it for themselves. But they are doing it for themselves. They merely need help. And the help they need is easy for us to provide. (Jam their fucking communications.) And their cause is freedom, which is allegedly our cause. What they seek from Obama is an extended hand. What they are getting is a clenched fist. If Muammar Qaddafi takes Benghazi, it will be Barack Obama’s responsibility. That is what it means to be the American president. The American president cannot but affect the outcome. That is his burden and his privilege. He has the power to stop such an atrocity, so if the atrocity is not stopped it will be because he chose not to use his power. Perhaps that is why Obama has been telling people, rather tastelessly, that it would be easier to be the president of China. Obama will not be rushed. He is a man of the long game. But the Libyan struggle for freedom, and the mission of rescue, is a short game. That is the temporality of such circumstances. If you do not act swiftly, you have misunderstood the situation. Delay means disaster. Does Obama have any idea of what Qaddafi’s victory will mean for the region and its awakening?