One of the things that makes me hot in watching politics is when one politician criticizes another one’s decision-making without having to explain what he would have done differently. It’s amazing how omnipotent the American president is expected to be about events that are completely beyond his control. Wow, Libya sure did blow up in your face, President Obama; you should have known those Arabs couldn’t handle democracy (say the same people who 9 years ago justified invading an Arab country to “help teach them democracy”). Well, I don’t object to his decision-making per se (since I can’t offer a better alternative), but he should have run all his decisions by Congress (say the same people who were flabbergasted when the opposite side made the preposterous suggestion of “running a military by committee” 9 years ago). This has ceased to have anything to do with making good decisions; it is about coming up with one-liners that stick. And there’s such a desperate need to make Libya into Obama’s Iran hostage crisis that a congressman was willing to do a Wikileaks-style document dump which compromised Libyan allies for the sake of taking down the president. So let me pose the question to you: what would you have done in Libya?
Would you have let Qaddafi crush the rebellion, round up all the people who protested against him and their families, and kill them all off? Is our country responsible for intervening in other countries every time there are crimes against humanity being committed? There are a lot of countries in Africa where the US hasn’t done anything in response to genocide. What about Burma and East Timor? Of course the cynicism that inevitably comes up is they didn’t have oil and they were too far away from Israel to matter.
You could take the opposite position and say we’re not going to get involved unless America is completely in charge and completely responsible for nation-building after Qaddafi is overthrown. In that case, we would be fully invested in three theaters of warfare at the same time and we would likely end up losing the trust of the local population in the same way that happened in Iraq though the actors would be different. There would be more suicide bombings that would be supported by any locals who had lost family members to collateral damage perceived to be the fault of the American military. If America had been completely in charge of the military operations in Libya, then it might be fair to make the assassination of an ambassador the equivalent of the Iran hostage crisis because we should have established a fortified “green zone” to protect him.
Well, if you don’t like either of the two options, your only other real choice is to “lead from behind” to use that incredibly asinine turn of phrase. In other words, limiting American involvement to participation in a coalition in which others took the lead so that no matter how bad things got, America would not inherit sole responsibility for cleaning up the mess. The compromise option ironically is the easiest for a political opposition to criticize because they can criticize it from both sides at the same time without having to justify the lack of unity in their own perspective. I wonder if they did rock, paper, scissors in a back room somewhere to plan out who would attack from the non-interventionist perspective (“We don’t have money to fight another war”) and who would attack from the American exceptionalism perspective (“This ‘apologize first’ president has destroyed the prestige of America abroad; the terrorists are going to start landing on our beaches next weekend”). Of course the reason that these attacks are viable is because the morons in the news entertainment industrial complex have no problem reporting on world events as though the American president is God and should be able to control things like the weather patterns in the sky over Libya.
I don’t know how many of you have traveled much overseas. American tourists have a bad reputation abroad for being colossally arrogant and culturally shallow. I got a lot of grief from European backpackers in Mexico because of the experiences they’d had with gringos in the past. I saw some fellow gringo fratboys down there getting plastered and acting like complete idiots. You really see how ugly our culture has become when you’re out at a bar in a foreign country and a pack of gringos walks in without a doubt in their mind that everyone in the room thinks they’re awesome. When I think about a foreign policy that is shaped by a “Without Apology” kind of attitude, it makes me think of the fratboys I saw in Mexico with their foam sombrero hats posing next to cut-out pictures of Zapatistas with machine guns to show how “revolutionary” they were.
The only politician I’ve heard who has made any sense in talking about Middle East policy was Ron Paul who said let’s just pull out of the region altogether. No more money to Egypt, no more money to Israel. We need to stop letting Israel be the tail that wags our dog. Even if Iran were trying to get nuclear weapons instead of looking for a more cost-effective energy source, they know that if they nuked Israel, their whole country would be vaporized 30 minutes later. If they got a nuke, it would serve as a deterrent against invasion, which they know has about a 50/50 chance of happening depending on what the next American president needs to prove about his personal virility. I’m more worried about Benjamin Netanyahu trying to start World War III. Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s version of the FBI, said publicly that he fears Netanyahu’s mental instability. Can you imagine a recently retired head of the FBI saying that about a US president? Even wingnut congressmen don’t say things like that about Obama. That’s amazing.
It really is time for America to be done with the Middle East. It’s time for Israel to have to figure out how to get along without Uncle Sam’s credit card so that they have some incentive to make peace with the Palestinians and either stop building settlements in the occupied territories or tear down all the apartheid walls and accept Palestinians as full citizens of Israel. So much other stupidity will be put to rest when that conflict is finally over. Regarding Libya, I have no idea what I would have done when Qaddafi was crushing the rebellion or what I would do today. It was absolutely a mistake to leave diplomats in so vulnerable a position, but that has nothing to do with whether the American image abroad is based on a unilateralist gringo swagger or the coalition building approach of “leading from behind.” What really doesn’t help matters is the way that our lovely media pulls on people’s heartstrings one minute when the evil dictator is about to crush the rebellion and then has the gall to say a few months later well you should have known not to get involved. In any case, when you watch the debate tonight as Romney tries to make Libya into Obama’s Iran hostage crisis so he can have a repeat of 1980, think about what you would have done if you were in Obama’s shoes and whether it’s fair to attack from both sides at the same time without taking a position yourself.