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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Walk Softly and Carry a Moderately Sized Stick

Whether accurate or not, President Obama appears clueless.

Understand, even when I don’t agree with someone, I always try to see the other guy’s view.   I have no fear of having a calm rational discussion with people.  I’m not reactionary as a rule.  I always feel comfortable praising or complaining about the actions of politicians regardless of the R or D in front of their name.

I disagreed with Rush Limbaugh after Obama was elected.  I didn’t want to see the President fail, no matter his policies.  I opposed him because I felt his policies had no chance of succeeding, not because I didn’t like them.  I wouldn’t complain if it turned out I was wrong.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

I have to say that I offered praise for his refusal to scrap Bush’s defense measures that have continued to protect us from terrorism.  While I disagree with some changes he has made in that area, I can see his reason for doing so.

But right now, I just don’t see what he is seeing.  I can’t grasp what is going through his mind.

When the people of Iran rose up in protest, Obama was silent for days before offering a tepid, “we are witnesses” line.  We did nothing to support or protect the brave Iranians.

A year later, when northern Africa was struck with a wave of uprisings, Obama was slow to respond.  Once he did, he never seemed to know what he was saying.  Neither did those who worked for him.  From day to day, his stance seemed to shift so much that I’m still not sure where he stood.

On Libya, the President seemed wholly incapable of forming any type of coherant policy.  I wasn't the only one to notice. [h/t Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy]
Clinton stayed out of the fray, repeating the administration's position that all options are on the table but not specifically endorsing any particular step. She also did not voice support for stronger action in the near term, such as a no-fly zone or military aid to the rebels, both diplomats said.
"The way the U.S. acted was to let the Germans and the Russians block everything, which announced for us an alignment with the Germans as far as we are concerned," one of the diplomats told The Cable.
Clinton's unwillingness to commit the United States to a specific position led many in the room to wonder exactly where the administration stood on the situation in Libya.
"Frankly we are just completely puzzled," the diplomat said. "We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States."
Eventually, Secretary Clinton along with France and the Arab League drug Obama into taking a solid stance on Libya this past week.
Contrary to what Obama’s team has said, UN Resolution 1973 creates a marathon rather than a sprint.  Over a decade after the first Gulf War, US and UK planes were still enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq.  A no-fly zone is an efficient way to achieve a forced peace with a limited military engagement.  But it is not a quick and temporary job.

Reports from administration officials say that they expect these actions to last days, not weeks, but Obama contradicts them in his statement,  
So we must be clear:  Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced.  That is the cause of this coalition. 
     As a part of this effort, the United States will contribute our unique capabilities at the front end of the mission to protect Libyan civilians, and enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners.  And as I said yesterday, we will not — I repeat — we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground.
An effort that has a “front end” can probably be expected to last more than a few days.

The problem is that the resolution has no teeth to coerce Gaddafi; the limited military action offers no real threat to him.  He can play a game of cat and mouse in an effort to test our stamina.  He will pull out Saddam Hussein’s playbook in dealing with the sanctions.  Until there is a deadline with deadly consequences, the Libyan dictator is free to play the game for all it’s worth.

The no-fly zone is fine for what it is – an open-ended commitment to protect citizens.  But in Libya, a country undergoing an open rebellion, when does the no-fly zone cease to be a defensive effort and become an offensive weapon for the rebels?  Are we then putting our military personnel in harm’s way - not to protect innocent civilians, but to aid a revolution?   I’m not stating opposition to that, but shouldn’t all of this be discussed in Congress?

[Remember when the President would seek and receive authorization for war from Congress and it was called acting unilaterally because the French didn’t agree?  Now the President acts independent of any authorization from Congress and it’s called a multilateral action because the French are on board.
Oh, the bitter sweet irony]

If Obama believes this will only last a matter of days, not weeks, he is either misguided or seeks to give the rebels cover to swiftly overthrow Gaddafi.  But if he really meant to give aid to the rebellion, then we waited too long to act.  When the opposition troops were on the outskirts of Tripoli, a no-fly zone may have paved the way to a succesful regime change.  Instead we waited until Gaddafi's troops had pushed them back to Benghazi.

It’s getting more and more difficult to see any method to the madness of Obama’s diplomacy.  In announcing his decision to support military intervention by the UN, his administration took pains to explain his change of position carefully.  Instead they exposed his naivety.  Here’s Ace at Ace of Spades HQ,

Oh, dear God. Our President -- leader of the free world, commander in chief of the armed forces -- really thought that sanctions and a vague threat of force (while appearing very disinclined to carry out that threat) would be enough to convince a dictator to voluntarily relinquish power.
And that is the story they want out there.
The other story is that Obama just kind of doesn't make decisions for weeks at a time and then flip-flops his way into half-a**ed ones.
I want very much, to be able to support my President.  But the guy has to be smarter than this.  Teddy Roosevelt said to speak softly but carry a big stick.  For weeks, Obama talked loudly, then was surprised that his talking didn’t get the needed result.  So now he brings out a little stick.  In his announcement, he states that ground troops will not be deployed.  His attempt to stave off any concern about the use of ground troops seems to support the notion that the little stick may be inadequate for the task.  If so, what do we do then?

When we gradually increase the size of our stick, it fails to serve its purpose.  The reason we carry a big stick is for its intimidation factor - not because we want to use it.  Too often, liberals fail to comprehend this basic strategy.  When we show the big stick, it eliminates a lot of the need to use it.

Time and again, we see Democrats who want to use an escalating scale of military intervention with no clearly defined goals.  If you want to know why Vietnam became Vietnam, the answer is “an escalating scale of military intervention with no clearly defined goals”.  In Vietnam (Kennedy & Johnson), Iran (Carter), Kosovo & Somalia (Clinton) and now Libya (Obama), Democrat Presidents all wanted to tiptoe into military intervention.  They act as if Roosevelt had said, "Walk softly" instead of "Talk softly".

Agree with him or not, but once Bush felt that action was needed in Iraq, he followed the proper playbook.  He made the case in Washington and Europe.  He used UN resolutions to give Iraq’s dictator a deadline to meet certain requirements and laid out the consequences for any failure to do so.  With Congressional backing, Bush used the big stick in an attempt to intimidate Saddam into compliance.  When that failed, he swung the big stick.

Despite his failure to move Saddam to act, Bush’s big stick did move Libya’s dictator to voluntarily end his weapon’s programs for fear of the same fate.  This, of course, is the same man who now thumbs his nose at Obama’s little stick.

President Obama has said several times that Gaddafi must go.  But it must be decided whether we have a vested national security interest in that and that discussion should take place in Congress.  If we do, then Obama needs to bring out the big stick, give Gaddafi an exit plan and a deadline, and then enforce that deadline.

Mr. President, just as Gaddafi once paid attention to the actions of George W. Bush, the leaders of Iran, Syria and other nations are watching your actions today.  You can talk to them all you want; and when you do, follow this little piece of advice - say what you mean and mean what you say.  But I can promise you that they hear what you have to say much more clearly when they see you holding a big stick across your shoulder.

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