Sunday, March 13, 2011

Obama Staggers About While "Walking a Fine Line"

Slow to the party, hesitant, uncertain Obama has dragged his feet in all the Middle East revolutions. This "strategy" worked in Tunisia and Egypt, but it is failing disastrously in Libya. From a NY times report:
The protests upending the Arab world have ranged from the climactic success of protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, to the brutal crackdowns in Syria, whose government forced just a handful of demonstrators to sign pledges never to protest again, and to the uneasy standoff in Bahrain between Shiite protesters and a Sunni royal family. Libya has begun to emerge as its own model — the darker side of the forces unleashed this year by the immolation of a young man in the Tunisian hinterland.

Everyone here seems to have a gun these days, in a lawlessness tempered only by revolutionary ebullience. Young men at the front parade with the swagger that a rocket-propelled grenade launcher grants but hint privately that they will try to emigrate if they fail. Anti-American sentiments build, as rebels complain of Western inaction. And the hint of radicalization — religious or something more nihilist — gathers as the momentum in the three-week conflict clearly shifts to the forces of one of the world’s most bizarre leaders.

“This better not go on any longer,” said Dr. Salem Langhi, a surgeon who was working around the clock at a hospital that was abandoned as Colonel Qaddafi’s forces rushed in. “It will only bring misery and hard feelings among people. Losing lives and limbs doesn’t make anyone optimistic.”
If you look to history, one reason why Communism got such a hold on Russia was that the long series of popular revolts from the Decembrist uprisings to the Narodnik movement to the 1905 revolution each failed and the people turned bitter. The same is happening in Libya thanks to Obama's hesitant shuffle. If Obama has called for Gaddafi to be ousted early in the uprising instead of late, that probably would have helped the people to a quick victory. Instead he got "tougher" on Gaddafi only after several weeks and by that time Gaddafi had entrenched and has now unleashed his military to crush the people. Obviously Obama has read no history and doesn't understand popular revolts. Obama's actions have been counter-productive in all the Middle East revolts because he is always a day late and a dollar short.

The failures of the 19th century revolution sewed the ground with nihilism which opened the way to the cynical viciousness of Communism. You can see elements of that in this bit from the NY Times article:
Sitting on ammunition boxes, four young men from Benghazi debated the war, as they watched occasional volleys of antiaircraft guns fired at nothing. They promised victory but echoed the anger heard often these days at the United States and the West for failing to impose a no-flight zone, swelling a sense of abandonment. Salah Mughrabi, a 24-year-old chemical engineer without a job, pondered what might follow their defeat.

“You can’t imagine the fire that’s going to come,” he said. “Fire.”
It appears that the revolt in Libya will fail -- thanks to Obama's hapless "policy" -- and this will leave an open, suppurating wound in the Middle East. It will create "the Somalia of the Mediterranean". Tragic.

I find it funny that Obama so admired Lincoln. But one of the lessons to learn from the American Civil War was that Lincoln dithered too long, putting up with the incompetence of McClellan. This mistake by Lincoln probably caused the American Civil War to last a year and half longer than it should have and it probably led to 30% of the deaths and injuries that could have been avoided if Lincoln had quickly gone to a more decisive military leader. But Obama, like Lincoln, has dithered. But Lincoln learned his lesson and turned to Grant, a man with a doggedness and a stomach to put up with horrendous casualties, to bring the civil war to an end. Obama hasn't shown that ability to learn a lesson from history. Sad.

Unfortunately Obama has a peanut gallery of liberals who are giving him advice like the following from Maureen Dowd:
The Iraq war hawks urging intervention in Libya are confident that there’s no way Libya could ever be another Iraq.

Of course, they never thought Iraq would be Iraq, either.

All President Obama needs to do, Paul Wolfowitz asserts, is man up, arm the Libyan rebels, support setting up a no-fly zone and wait for instant democracy.

It’s a cakewalk.

Didn’t we arm the rebels in Afghanistan in the ’80s? And didn’t many become Taliban and end up turning our own weapons on us? And didn’t one mujahadeen from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, go on to lead Al Qaeda?

So that worked out well.


Leslie Gelb warns in The Daily Beast that no doubt some rebels are noble fighters, but some “could turn out to be thugs, thieves, and would-be new dictators. Surely, some will be Islamic extremists. One or more might turn into another Col. Qaddafi after gaining power. Indeed, when the good colonel led the Libyan coup in 1969, many right-thinking Westerners thought him to be a modernizing democrat.”

Reformed interventionist David Rieff, who wrote the book “At the Point of a Gun,” which criticizes “the messianic dream of remaking the world in either the image of American democracy or of the legal utopias of international human rights law,” told me that after Iraq: “America doesn’t have the credibility to make war in the Arab world. Our touch in this is actually counterproductive.”

He continued: “Qaddafi is a terrible man, but I don’t think it’s the business of the United States to overthrow him. Those who want America to support democratic movements and insurrections by force if necessary wherever there’s a chance of them succeeding are committing the United States to endless wars of altruism. And that’s folly.”
If the French had followed this advice in 1776, there would be no United States today. Why get entangled in a struggle between some boisterous uncivilized colonists and the English? It was sure to turn out badly.

The problem of leadership is that the future is unclear. You will always get those who tell you that "nothing can be done" because the future is so terrifying. At the same time you will get the gung-ho crazies who will tell you to "nuke 'em" as a quick and easy solution. In the real world, the mucky mess we have to work work, real leaders must make decisions that will always be unclear and are guaranteed to outrage critics on left and right.

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