On Monday's edition of CNN's Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer and political analyst Gloria Borger discussed President Barack Obama's response to the situation in Libya, bringing unwitting clarity to the issue Barack Obama's projected and real weakness.
First, they wondered aloud how it could have been that Barack Obama would come out relatively quickly against Egypt's Hosni Mubarak who, while not a paragon of democratic virtue, was nevertheless an important and mostly reliable ally of the U.S. and partner in peace with Israel for three decades, but stay silent about Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for nearly two weeks. Gaddafi is a man who has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and other westerners and who doesn't even have allies in the Arab world.
Instead of running a country, Gaddafi should have long ago been executed for murder. He's unbalanced, apparently delusional, and murdering his own people. But the Obama administration said nothing against this dictator until who knows how much Libyans were killed in the streets. The inconsistency and poor judgment of Obama that Blitzer and Borger point to is something that even the left, but especially the critically important independent voters, can't help but notice.
As Stephen Hayes said at an event in Colorado this weekend, the ferry boat that eventually brought hundreds Americans and other westerners to safety in Malta first sat for several days in a harbor just outside Tripoli, bobbing in the waves, waiting for conditions to improve -- an all too fitting metaphor for this administration's reaction to the events in Libya.
In attempting to answer their own question of the administration's delayed reaction to the revolt in Libya, Blitzer said that perhaps Obama was worried that strong words against Gaddafi might put at risk about 150 American diplomats in Tripoli. But the only way that would make sense is if Obama knows that he is, or at least is perceived in Libya as, the second coming of Jimmy Carter: a man who would let American diplomats be taken hostage and then not have the wisdom or courage to do whatever it takes to rescue them and cause great and permanent harm to the hostage takers.
After all, in the purely political world in which Barack Obama lives -- and I write this understanding how Machiavellian it sounds -- the taking of an American hostage by the Libyan (or any other) government could be as much a political opportunity as a political risk for our president. Of course, a rescue attempt could go horribly wrong, resulting in the death of those who we were trying to rescue. That would indeed reflect badly on the president, but not nearly as badly as doing nothing. Implicit in Blitzer and Borger's comments is the all too believable suggestion that Barack Obama is too likely to do nothing, too afraid of a bad outcome or too disdainful of U.S. military power to do something, and that therefore the risk of American hostages is indeed one he cannot take.
Unfortunately, his inability to take that risk jeopardizes far more than the slight possibility that Americans would have been taken hostage. It risks every would-be Arab reformer-rebel who might, if they could expect U.S. support, try to topple their various dictators instead deciding that the US is all hat and no cattle when it comes to brave talk of democracy. Well, to be fair, there's precious little brave talk from the current president, so perhaps you can't call him hypocritical; to the extent that U.S. policy has encouraged these rebellions, it's something for which George W. Bush can take far more credit that Barack Carter-Obama. And, by projecting such abject weakness, Obama's actions actually increase the chances of Americans being treated badly by any tin-pot dictator trying to get leverage on the U.S.
When even CNN implicitly recognizes that Barack Obama probably is, and certainly is seen in the Arab world as, every bit as spineless as the worst American president in recent generations (until the current one), Barack Obama and Democrats who hope to get elected or re-elected in 2012 had better hope that foreign policy magically drops off the table as an issue before the elections. The way things are going in North Africa and the Middle East, the Obama-Carter comparisons are likely to haunt our current president through the election and will increase the chances that Barack Obama's first term is also his last -- much to the chagrin of dictators around the world.
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