It is may be too easy to say that since President Obama has outraged both the far left and the rabid right, he must have done something right, but that well may the case in Libya. He managed to stop the slaughter while keeping American ground troops out of the fray.
Not only that, he forged a coalition of mostly European nations to join us in repelling Gadhafi’s forces as they entered Benghazi with every intention of “cleansing” the population. Few will doubt that the Libya despot fully intended to murder not only rebels but anyone who even looked like they might be thinking rebellious thoughts.
What looked like timid delay on the part of Obama may well have been the playing out of a poker hand as he let the Europeans know that America is tired of spending its blood and treasure to protect their interests. In the end, it is to be noted, those were French jets knocking Gadhafi’s planes from the sky.
With the American military providing leadership, it was a NATO operation. In the coming days, at Obama’s insistence, NATO will take over that leadership role. Of course the U.S. is a major presence in NATO, but the principle has been established. If you Europeans want it done, you are going to have to pony up.
It has been a cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy to share leadership, responsibility, and costs with the international community when action of this sort is called for. It appears that the President has pulled this one off. If he is able to stick to his guns (oops), he will indeed have pulled off a coup. One can only imagine the squirming that must have gone on at the conference table as the U.S. made it clear that we were not going to go it alone.
It appears that only Germany refused to join the coalition, leading Jay Leno to wonder how the world got turned upside down: the Germans refusing to fight while the French marched in with élan. Not so long ago French reluctance in Iraq led to all kinds of nasty jokes. Remember freedom fries? What now? Liberty chocolate cake?
Obama’s speech Monday night was probably the best of his career. Yes, it did leave a lot of unanswered questions. Will we get rid of Gadhafi or not? What happens if he goes and whoever replaces him is as bad or worse? Will the Europeans see this thing through?
One of the interesting statements in the Obama speech was his embrace of American exceptionalism—the notion that we are different from other nations in not only our ideals but in the way that we truly try to live up to them. In the past he has rejected that notion.
Other nations, Obama said this time, may be content to look the other way when people in foreign lands are slaughtered, but we are not like that. We are different. We cannot simply stand by. We cannot always do something, but in Libya our ideals and our interests required that we act.
Oddly, this president, who so often is criticized as too detached and professorial, was engaged and persuasive in his speech. He does seem to have been changed by the reality of power in the Oval Office. It is said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.
Barack Obama may well now understand that the world is indeed a nasty place, and that America, for all its flaws, is a shining beacon on a hill.