There are many reasons to hope that President Obama is a one-term president, and they have been rehearsed on this blog many times. But occasionally there are arguments against him that strike me as seriously off-base. One such has surfaced during the recent commentary about how he is not “doing enough” in the Middle East and North Africa; he is not, apparently, giving enough angry speeches about Egypt, or Libya, or sending vast carrier fleets to the Med, or the Gulf, or generally behaving like a Teddy Roosevelt and doing the “let’s give those furriners hell” thing. Well, at the risk of drawing heavy fire from the hawks who lurk around this site, I would argue that funnily enough, there may be a measure of method in this supposed madness.
For instance, I fail to see what, really, the US or other major powers could or should have done about Egypt. Far better, in my view, to let the Egyptians take ownership of their country’s problems and challenges. If anything positive does come out of the “Jasmine Revolution” (whoever comes up with these terms?), better that it be an achievement by the locals, a source of pride and genuine self esteem, not something associated with “abroad”. For far too long, the Middle East, and many other places besides, have had this oh-so-convenient excuse that their problems were all the fault of the Great Satan and his arrogant, silly interventionism in pursuit of oil, or whatever. The US has often played the part, not always willingly, of being the world’s designated driver (the person who stays sober so he can drive his drinking buddies home at the end of the evening). The trouble with being a designated driver is that it starts to encourage the drinkers to drink even more, become more rowdy, and then they can start to vomit on the street, get into fights, or then almost resent that goody-goody who is always there, with the car, to take them home again. Time for some adult responsbility rather than constant reliance on the West.
I am not of course suggesting that Obama has necessarily been taking a wise, cautious stance based on thoughtful reflection. Other issues may have played a part. But I think we should perhaps give a bit more credit where it is sometimes due here. There are limits on what even the most powerful of countries can and should do. In the case of Egypt, and possibly Libya, the smart policy may be to watch, pay close attention but in general, to stay out of the mess. It is, in fact, a conservative stance. Maybe, just for once, The Community Organiser has shown a bit of common sense. He may, in short, be behaving like a “Swiss”, but I fail to see why that is necessarily terrible or something to be ashamed of. (It should be noted that since Obama’s ascendancy to the White House, the US has put the Swiss banking system under relentless, even hysterical, attack).
Normal service will be resumed later. Stay tuned.
UPDATE. Well that did not seem to persuade anyone. But read carefully, gentle readers. I am not suggesting that this is all a consequence of deep thought, or of anything broadly benign. It may well indeed be that The One is paralysed, out of his depth, a silver-tongued twerp who is in over his head, whatever. But unlike Christopher Hitchens in the article to which I link, I do not think that what the North African crises call for is mass-scale US interventionism. Sure, the US could and should have been quicker to get US nationals out; maybe also it should have acted faster to realise the fallout of all this. But why should the US, given its heavy commitments in other areas (Iraq, Afghanistan) feel called upon to sort out the mess of yet another region of the world?