Barrack Obama's administration stumbles around the Middle East crisis acting for all the world as if its central conundrum is that it must not act like the Bush administration and yet has to act like the Bush administration. This is a recipe for paralysis.
Paralysis is good for dictators, theocrats and terrorists, but bad for liberals, mass movements for peaceful change and rebels who want to overthrow murderous dictators. The Arab Spring is in danger of being chilled.
Even the New York Times is finding it difficult to get excited about Obama's dismal performance.
With the spread of antigovernment protests from North Africa to the strategic, oil-rich Persian Gulf, President Obama has adopted a policy of restraint. He has concluded that his administration must shape its response country by country, aides say, recognizing a stark reality that American national security interests weigh as heavily as idealistic impulses. That explains why Mr. Obama has dialed down the vocal support he gave demonstrators in Cairo to a more modulated call for peaceful protest and respect for universal rights elsewhere.
This emphasis on pragmatism over idealism has left Mr. Obama vulnerable to criticism that he is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab street protesters. Some say he is failing to bind the United States to the historic change under way in the Middle East the way that Ronald Reagan forever cemented himself in history books to the end of the cold war with his famous call to tear down the Berlin Wall.
No kidding. "Some say" he is "failing." No kidding. That is putting it as absolutely nicely as possible. But wait, there is more:
On Thursday, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, deflected calls for more aggressive action in Libya, telling reporters what American officials have been saying privately for days: despite pleas from Libyan rebels for military assistance, the United States will not, at least for now, put its pilots in harm’s way by enforcing a no-flight zone over the country.
Not only is intervention risky, officials said, but they also fear that in some cases, it could be counterproductive, provoking a backlash against the United States for meddling in what is a homegrown political movement.
Then why did Obama call on Gaddhafi to step down? If he intended to do nothing, why not keep his mouth shut until the issue was resolved one way or the other? Now, America looks weak. On top of that, his administration now has conceded defeat for the rebels. They contradict themselves so often they look like clowns. For heaven's sake, bring back the cowboys. As Jennifer Rubin puts it:
The adjectives used to describe President Obama’s approach to Libya are piling up — “paralysis,” “timidity,” “dithering.” You get the drift. The Arab League is backing a no-fly zone. Yes, the Arab League. But not the U.S. As The Post reported:
The move represents an extraordinary step by the leading Arab organization, historically reluctant to sanction a member, and provided fresh evidence of the reformist spirit recasting long-stagnating Arab politics. It was also a risky step for a number of Arab leaders facing domestic dissent of their own.
The vote significantly ratchets up pressure on the Obama administration and its European allies to act on behalf of Libya’s rebels, who are under heavy assault from Gaddafi’s far better-armed forces. NATO has called Arab League support a precondition for military action in Libya, and the Saturday vote gave new momentum to proposals for a protective no-fly zone over the oil-rich country.
One imagines that had Obama been president at critical times we would never have intervened in Bosnia, freed Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, aided pro-Western democratic fighters in Central America or liberated Grenada.
If Obama has been in office from 1980-88, maybe the Soviet Union would still be limping along or maybe it would have lasted an extra decade. Great.
Now, the Obama administration has basically admitted by its actions on Guantanamo Bay that Bush was right and Obama was wrong.
As a candidate for president, Barack Obama frequently decried the Bush administration’s policy of keeping Islamic terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison. Obama also charged that the military trials for detainees constituted an impermissible breach of American jurisprudence and that the whole enterprise represented a key recruiting tool for terrorist groups. As president would be to close the island facility. . .
Two years later, Obama has found that closing Guantanamo is not as easy as he portrayed in his campaign speeches. The closure of a facility he once regarded as a moral imperative has long since collided repeatedly with numerous practical problems Obama failed to consider.
For example, few countries want to take Gitmo’s inmates off our hands, no matter how many backroom deals the administration tries to make. And there’s the additional conundrum of how to proceed with detainees who, for a variety of reasons, can’t be tried in civilian courts, as Obama promised, but are obviously too dangerous simply to release.
Slowly and painfully, the president has belatedly learned what his predecessor knew well: Gitmo is the best of a host of bad options.
That is why, with little fanfare, Obama signed an executive order this week which creates a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at Gitmo who have been judged to pose a continuing significant threat to U.S. national security. The White House also acknowledged that detainees will be tried under a new military commission.
Oops! Every aspect of the Bush administration's policy on this issue has been utterly and completely vindicated. Obama is out of his depth because his naive, liberal, all talk and no action, appeasement policies do not work. They have the opposite effect they are supposed to have. They cause allies to doubt and empower extremism. For example, back to the NYT article:
Bahrain poses a different problem. There, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has pledged to enter a dialogue with the protestors, after having unleashed its security forces on them. Officials said Mr. Obama persuaded King Hamad to pull back his forces, which they said won the United States goodwill from the mostly Shiite demonstrators. But the talks have failed to get off the ground, and now some Shiites feel the Americans have sided against them.
“There is a sense among many Bahraini reformers that the U.S. is a bit too eager to praise progress toward dialogue and reform that has not yet happened, and that the premature praise is easing pressure on the government,” said Tom Malinowski, the head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.
“Striking a very balanced, and in many ways, neutral approach is recognized by many people in the region as not being with them, or on their side,” said J. Scott Mastic, the head of Middle East and North Africa for the International Republican Institute. “It’s very important that we be seen as supporting the demands of the people in the region.”
Foreign policy is hard; really hard. Much harder than it seemed to the self-righteous leftists who derided the way Bush responded to the post 9/11 world. Now they are finding this out for themselves. But the way the NYT article ends is unbelievable. Listen:
How Mr. Obama manages to do that while also balancing American interests is a question that officials acknowledge will plague this historic president for months to come. Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.”If Obama actually said that, and one can easily imagine him doing so, it is unbelievable and shocking. Can anyone imagine Ronald Reagan sitting around wishing he was President of the Soviet Union? Is there anything more pathetic than the leader of the Free World musing about how much easier it would be to be a totalitarian dictator? It is like having Grima Wormtongue in charge of the assault on the Black Gates.