I listened to the President’s speech last night on Libya and I have several thoughts. First the second guessing and criticism that for the most part has been, as I described before, small, bordering on micromanagement, and politically motivated. In a word, inane. If you take the Republican criticism, they were for it before they were against it. Maybe they think we are so dumb we don’t watch the video tape of them calling for action and then whining about the action taken. Then there are the endless pundits who are micromanaging the effort. What all of this criticism has in common is what has become the linchpin of Americanism: Take no risks. Be afraid to be bold.
If you listen to many Americans what you hear is that they want to be independent, but when shit happens, they want the government to step in and make the world safe. It’s the same phenomenon here. We don’t want to take any risks whatsoever. No pain, no gain? But the world is a risky place and no matter how much you try to ameliorate risks, you still have to take risks if you want to move forward. We have no idea how events in Libya will play out, so it is a big risk (or is it?) to support the rebels and defend their aspirations for more freedom. But failing to be bold in the face of opportunities is the very definition of failure.
Then there are the criticisms that give me pause. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul come to mind. They feel that the President has exceeded his War Powers authority and is setting a dangerous precedent for using our armed forces without the consent of Congress. Clearly he is walking a fine line. But here I look at our moribund Congress and think that if we even limit minor policing actions to Congressional approval, nothing will ever happen. At this juncture they are worse than how the Republicans like to characterize the UN. As noted, the Republicans are not interested in doing the right thing for the country, only bringing down the President. With this kind of opposition and the micromanaging of the press and other Congressmen/Women, we would have no ability to respond to anything. There has to be some flexibility for the President to act when circumstances present opportunities.
I think the President laid out a good argument why Libya. Because it is consistent with our values, there was a world coalition, and we could. Is it in our national interests? The President made the argument that had Gadhafi been successful, there would have been mass murder, and destabilizing refugees in both Tunisia and Egypt, destabilizing their fledgling reform movements.
But there is a more strategic interest that President Obama did not touch on directly. Change is happening in the Middle East. It will probably be a long bloody road with many hills and valleys. But it is inevitable. So which side of history do you want to be on? Do you want the tyrants of these countries as cheer leaders for the U.S., or the people of these countries? Think Al Qaeda. One reason they hate us is because we have propped up their countries corrupt leaders. Sure it is a risk. There is no guarantee that the rebels will succeed, or if they do, another tribe leader will not just simply take power and crack down. But we tried. And that will be remember throughout the Arab world.
So in my mind there really is little risk. We are using our power to give people a chance. What better use is there for it? We won’t fight their battles for them other than level the playing field. It will be up to them and that in itself is worth taking this risk. For once, “where we could” we have stood up for what we believe. It will pay large dividends in the future whether Libya succeeds or not. And most importantly, it sends a powerful message to leaders in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. They are on the wrong side of history and the world community is watching.
If only our President could stand up for basic values at home, we would be on a roll.