Monday, March 14, 2011

Libya for Liberals

Well, it is an improvement, at least... of sorts. Or, let's say that if it's not exactly a moral improvement, it's certainly an improvement in terms of consequences.

I'm referring to the relatively tepid response of the administration to events in Libya, where we have – so far, at least – resisted the usual neocon-type temptation to go running in in our ham-handed way and make things worse. Could it be that we have, at last, doffed the mantle of “world policeman”? Well, let's not get too excited – after all, we're still trying to teach the Iraqis and Afghans the meaning of “democracy”, American-style... and we have “listening posts” in virtually every other country on earth, whose main job it is to tell the White House when to send in troops (and to propose, if anyone is interested, some sort of rationale).

So what's going on here? Is it plain cowardice? No – no one can accuse this administration of that, on either the foreign-policy or domestic front. If anything, they seem more to be slaves to impulse and unconsidered action. Well then, is it about money? Not likely, since our national debt climbs to greater heights with each passing day, with winless wars being a primary cause. And of course it can't have anything to do with ancient Cold War distinctions – as if the current administration would have cared about those anyway. And even if it were about principles, which it most assuredly isn't, what clear principle would enable us to distinguish between Gadhafi (the spelling of whose name seems to change every few hours, for reasons unknown) and the rebels? Both sides claim to be faithful to Islam... “revolutionary”... supported by the populace... and it's not unlikely that the rebels might have some sympathies for “terrorism” as well, which would put them in the same camp as Gadhafi.

That is, in fact, part of the problem for our somewhat-dithering White House and State Department – the fact that it's getting harder to tell where “American interests” lie in the various Arab-world disputes. In fact, it's even hard to tell, at times, where Israeli interests lie – and since that is the basis for our foreign policy, it makes things even more muddled.

Time was – and it wasn't that long ago at all – when we would already have landed Marines on the “shores of Tripoli” in order to (pick one) support the Gadhafi regime or facilitate its overthrow. Or, we would have landed Marines in eastern Libya in or to (pick one) support the Gadhafi regime or facilitate its overthrow. And/or, we would have bombed Gadhafi's bases, troops, materiel, and supply lines, or bombed the rebels' equivalent. I mean... can you imagine us just standing by and biding our time during the Eisenhower administration? I don't think any president up to Obama, with the possible exception of Carter, would have adopted the current hands-off approach... and who knows, Obama may crack yet. But the fact that he's held out this long is remarkable.

But as I said, it's not a matter of principle, any more than anything else this administration does. What it is, basically, is a kind of backwards diplomacy, whereby instead of picking the winner and then doing everything we can to make sure they win, we wait until there's a winner then declare our support – not only at that point but in retrospect. “Oh yes, we were on your side all along.” Kind of like what we did in Egypt, in fact. And it's amazing how many of these third-world clowns fall for it – either that or they see it as an easy ticket to foreign aid. You know, always smile at “de massah”, even if you're holding a knife behind your back. Smile and shuffle, because you have nothing to lose and a great deal to gain.

OK now, I'll admit that Obama & Co. have been mouthing words about how Gadhafi has “got to go” -- but those are only words, and they can be taken back, or ignored, or erased from history as the situation demands – unlike actual invasions, which are a bit harder to just wipe off the slate. After all, we continued to deal with the Soviet Union after Reagan called it an “evil empire”, right? That's what diplomacy and diplomats are for – to cool, or ignore, the rhetoric of national leaders in order to keep the peace and not disrupt commercial ties. The unspoken agreement is that leaders can say anything they want, as long as the goods keep coming and going, and the banks and stock exchanges stay open, and so forth. I mean, you wouldn't believe how many “enemy” countries and regimes we have a healthy trading situation with. And this has nothing to do with principles, unless it's the principle of making money. And yet – I hate to say it, because it sounds cynical – this is preferable to the more traditional situation where we send in the Marines, and become first an invading, then occupying, then “nation-building” force – the latter being the mission for which our military is least suited and which is most failure-prone. I mean, it's easy enough to invade one of these places, and set up an occupation of sorts, but when it comes to changing an entire culture – which may go back hundreds or even thousands of years... give me a break! It hasn't happened yet. What we wind up creating is a bunch of Potemkin villages for visiting Congressmen, and the minute we leave they revert to type. The people in those countries who are in the know – who have some historical perspective – realize this, and know that if they are sufficiently patient, their ways will win out in the end. As far as they're concerned, “democracy” is delusional, dangerous, and just plain silly – and when you have a look at our domestic politics, it's hard to disagree.

But listen to this (from Obama): “When it comes to military actions... you've got to balance costs versus benefits.” Can you imagine Bush (the 2nd) ever saying that? Or Dick Cheney? How about LBJ? Impossible! And it's not that it was so much easier to pick sides back then. I mean, admittedly, we always tend to prefer tyrants over “the people”, since the tyrants tend to serve our purposes more reliably. Except when they don't, and then we decide for the people... at least temporarily, until we start to feel the need for a tyrant again, so we pick one and set him on the throne (can you say “Karzai”, class?).

Among the Obama statements that _don't_ count in all this is the one about “slowly tightening the noose”. What noose? And how, pray tell, would it be tightened even if it exists? And: “...the United States is seeking ways to help (Libya's) rebel forces.” Um... well, the usual way is militarily, right? And we're not doing that. So what do we intend to do instead? See – it's all wishy-washy and disgusting... except that, in this instance, they're right. There really are some disputes we should stay out of – for our own sake, and for the sake of the disputants. One thing is certain – no matter which side we take in one of these conflicts, we'll wind up being hated by both sides and exploited by at least one. So we cannot possibly win... and just the thought that maybe, just maybe, someone in the administration is starting to realize this is a sign for wonderment.

Of course, I could be wrong, and by the time you read this we may be carpet-bombing Tripoli. Or some diplomat's daughter might be duping Congress with tales of babies being tossed out of incubators in Benghazi. Or something. It certainly doesn't take much to rile the good ol' USA, as many people and organizations have found out to their dismay. We still believe that it's our way or the highway – in other words, if you don't like democracy, American-style, then kindly get the hell off the planet before we come over there and turn your ass into fine powder.

Interestingly, France has already picked a winner (but won't do anything to support it, of course) by declaring the opposing forces “the legal rulers of Libya”. Hmm... wonder which legal code they referred to for that one? But hey, we're talking about France here, right? And when it comes to governments, and forms of government, it would be hard to find a more impulsive place. These are the people who beheaded a king, then a few years later crowned an emperor. So – their judgment in these matters is always questionable. (Actually, it's not – it's almost always wrong.)

And one additional note: “Obama reiterated his support for the principle (!) that world powers should intervene to stop governments that are killing or brutalizing their own people.” A fine idea, that – but how about if we start stopping governments that are killing or brutalizing other people? That would include... um, let's see... oh yes – us.

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