Thursday, April 7, 2011

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The Sum of America’s Libya Policy

President Obama’s Elegant Speech Indicated Stalemate OK for Now


On 3/28 we posted in reaction to Obama’s speech: “Masterful, nuanced, intelligent articulation of Libya policy by president will enhance stature, mute critics. He is okay w/temp stalemate.

On 3/29 we posted “NPR ‘All Things Considered,’ today, in piece on Libya speech: ‘The president's speech appears to have muted some of the criticism...’”


We now follow up those blurbs with this brief.


On March 28, the president laid out one of the most thoughtful, elegant, and coherent explanations of the American national interest and moral obligation in regards to the actions of tyrants beyond our borders ever delivered by any president anywhere.  We invite those who missed it to see it or to read it.  It aspired to the moral, visionary, intellectual, muscular liberalism of the Kennedy era.  It flatly rejected the narrow, parochial, inward-looking isolationism of the far right and extreme libertarians, and the small-minded, disingenuous, utopian pacifism of the far left. While the second President George Bush belatedly adopted a conservative version of this view after 9/11, in the address, Barak Obama articulated an understanding of an idealistic American foreign policy, tempered by practicality, in a way Bush II never could – to the detriment of Bush and American foreign policy.  Barak Obama answered every question that has been raised in the public debate since the question of American involvement first surfaced.  And, though we do not agree here with the specifics of the president’s tactical requirement of a broad-based, multi-national consensus, he did lay out a very compelling argument for it.


In truth, there is wisdom in the general concept of gaining a broad-based international coalition in these kinds of engagements. But, we point to the example of George Bush I in the first Iraq war, as a better formula, one with a clearer path to success, and one that maintains the precious and often cost-saving currency of American prestige.  As an editorial in the Wall Street Journal put it prior to the president’s speech, when listing legitimate American interests, “…and, do we have to say it?  American prestige.”  Unfortunately, we do have to say it, because while most Americans seem to understand the high value of prestige in commerce, professional associations, and even social settings, many do not understand its value in international affairs.  And, we do still wonder if the president, as one highly committed to a leftist-liberal ideology that is prone to question American purpose and values, understands its value.  President Carter never understood it while in office, and does not to this day.


In any case, when we said “He is okay w/temp stalemate,” we were indicating precisely that: that the president has taken a course that will prolong the resolution of the conflict in Libya, and with open eyes is accepting that, preferring it to taking any of the actions that would be required to obtain anything more than that quickly.  His multi-national consensus requirement effectively prevents him from taking any course that would speed up the resolution, and he knows that.


The president has shown himself to be a thinker.  But, the opportunity for a relatively easy intervention, one that would have accomplished the humanitarian goals most sane humans agree with, as well as major strategic gains for the United States - with very little to be placed at risk - was lost.  The president has thoughtfully reversed himself in many areas regarding national security (with the quiet, hypocritical - if reluctant - acquiescence of The New York Times and NBC), but slowly.  In a moment of real national crisis, this penchant for taking his time may prove to be a serious liability for the nation.


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