The Spectacle Blog

On Libya, Obama Must Lead

By on 3.23.11 | 11:13AM

This morning I was a guest on the Joy Cardin show, which is broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio. The topic: Libya. My sparring partner: Alan Kuperman, an associate professor of public affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin.

Kuperman used to work for left-wing Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and is against U.S. military action in Libya. I, of course, am a card-carrying member of the vast right-wing conspiracy and support American involvement there.

When the mp3 file is available, I'll post it here for American Spectator readers. In the meantime, here are a few quick thoughts and reactions.

1. The show's producers, it seems, had a difficult time finding anyone who would support Obama administration policy in Libya.

They called me almost at the last minute, and sounded relieved to have found someone finally who, publicly and on record, would side with Obama. This reveals, I think, that the president and his administration have not done a good job of explaining and articulating U.S. foreign policy.

2. Although I support Obama's decision to aid the Libyan rebels, I am hardly an uncritical cheerleader, as readers here know.

In fact, one of my biggest concerns is that American military involvement is too hamstrung by enfeebling conditions such as the president's refusal to deploy ground troops or military advisers.

Moreover, Obama's military objective is divorced or separated from his policy objective. The former is to protect the Libyan people and to avert a humanitarian disaster. The latter is to effect regime change in Libya by getting rid of Gaddafi.

These two policies ought to be inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing. That they're not spells policy incoherence and possible policy failure.

3. Obama's Libya policy lacks an overarching strategic purpose or rationale. It's not that such a purpose or rationale doesn't exist, because it does. The problem, for Obama, is that this purpose, by and large, corresponds with what his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush said:

It [should be] the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

Indeed, Libya cannot and must not be divorced from the Middle East and North Africa region of which it is a part. American success or failure in Libya will have serious strategic consequences for Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, et al.

Success will embolden democratic forces there. Failure, by contrast, will strengthen the hand of the autocrats and the Islamists who view America as the enemy.

4. The President of the United States must not be the follower-in-chief; he must be the persuader-in-chief. The American people are instinctively antiwar; they are against "entangling foreign alliances."

It thus takes presidential leadership and persuasion, through use of the bully pulpit, to convince them of the wisdom of U.S. military action overseas.

Yet Obama has been stunningly reticent to speak out much, let alone to speak out with clarity and vision, about U.S. foreign policy. And, when has spoken out, it mostly has been to apologize for America's alleged past wrongdoing, while warning of the limits of American power.

This won't do. The danger in Libya is not that America will act too rashly, or that it will recklessly throw its weight around the world. The danger is that we are too meek and unsteady.

And so, what should be a quick and decisive military operation turns into a long and protracted stalemate. Does Obama really want his presidency held hostage in Libya?

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