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A mistaken reason for bashing Barack Obama

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?

42 comments to A mistaken reason for bashing Barack Obama

  • bradley13

    There is a saying that one should not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. In the case of the Obama administration and an “inactive” foreign policy, I think the reverse may apply: do not attribute to competence and foresight that which may be explained by, etc…

    Also I find the comparison to the Swiss to be remarkable. The Swiss have always punched over their weight internationally, being responsible for many activities (such as the Geneva Conventions and the Red Cross) that only a neutral state could manage. Comparing this to Obama’s international flailing – or indeed to American foreign policy in general – seems rather insulting to the Swiss.

  • Laird

    I agree with bradley13. Obama’s inaction concerning the Middle East isn’t prudent caution; it’s the paralysis of incompetence. He’s hiding under his sheets, hoping the monster will stay in the closet. The fact that in the end it’s the correct course of action doesn’t change anything; he gets no points from me for doing the right thing for entirely the wrong reasons. The blind pig found a truffle; oh frabjous day!

    None of which means that I won’t use this as an opportunity to criticize the Obama administration. “Never let a good crisis go to waste”, as one of his advisors famously said. Sauce for the goose and all that.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    bradley13, a point to remember is that the Swiss can only really afford to take these stances because others – such as the NATO member countries – have tended to do a lot of heavy lifting in the past.

    Laird: I wasn’t really worried about whether this is all about awarding Obama any “points”, rather, it is about recognising that whatever the motives, some times it is wise not to rush in.

  • Laird

    Oh, I don’t dispute that it can be (and usually is) “wise not to rush in”. All I’m saying is that this isn’t evidence of Intelligent Design.

  • Bod

    Laird beat me to it.

    This really isn’t the result of sober analysis by the Administration, but institutional paraysis – evidenced by the uttely hamfisted efforts at evacuating US nationals from Libya. How much more of the near- and middle-east has to self-immolate before the US Administration figure out how many people they have in a given country and that they might just have to organize sufficient transportation to get them all out.

    And – if the plan is to leave those nationals to their own devices, where’s the plan to tell ‘em they’re on their own?

    No, any benefits accruing from this inactivity are simply a byproduct of a policy vacuum.

  • jdm

    I get – and find attractive even – the points of bradley13 and Laird, but I have to agree with Johnathan. I still don’t understand what actions Obama and his administration should’ve taken that weren’t or were taken late or weren’t taken decisively or something.

    As far as I can tell, the whole ME is basically out of the hands of the US and the West. The only exception would be for Israel, but wait, Obama and the gang decisively screwed that up… so we got nothing except to wait and see. An approach the present US admin is perfectly suited to handle.

    … unless it becomes necessary to distract people’s attention from some domestic issue that might be going awry.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Johnathan, the evidence has been, since the first time Obama bowed to a foreign potentate, that he has no idea of how an American – let alone an American President – ought to act. This isn’t masterly inactivity, it’s befuddlement.

  • Gene

    Johnathan has a funny definition of “mass-scale interventionism.” The most anyone has seriously called for is enforcing a no fly zone. The second most anyone’s called for is a simple “show” of force like putting a USN ship or two off the coast.

    Obama, and the US left in general, want to see a weakened US that, apart from an invasion of South Carolina or a martian attack, would never under any circumstances even consider military involvement anywhere, any time. In that respect they line up fairly well with libertarians. I for one cannot align myself with that kind of thinking for several reasons I’ll not go into here, and I think a post-American world is likely to be a damn sight worse than the above-mentioned groups believe. Unfortunately we’re about to find out in a real-life experiment.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Obama hasn’t just failed to act in the Middle East.

    He has acted wrongly, and he has willfully refused to act in useful ways.

    Item: the U.S. State Department used to fund a small NGO called the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. The IHRDC’s work was to compile evidence of torture and murder by the Iranian government – to document these crimes, so the full extent would be known and verifiable. In 2009, its funding was cancelled. The IHRDC survives on private funds and a grant from Canada.

    Item: the State Department had a small fund supporting democratic reformers in Egypt. This funding was cut off in 2009 or early 2010, and US contacts with these figures was dropped.

    Item: Obama’s ostentatious attempt to placate the inveterately brutal and hostile government of Syria.

    Item: Obama’s ostentatious deference to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

    Item: Obama was the first U.S. President to refer officially to the Iranian regime as the “Islamic Republic of Iran”.

    Item: Obama’s seeming indifference to the popular uprising in Iran. The U.S. has an obvious interest in the possible removal of a regime which makes “Death to America” its catchphrase, but Obama didn’t seem to care.

    I agree that it is not in the power of the U.S. to solve the problems of the Middle East (at least not without drastic actions that are politically impossible). But Obama has done things which make those problems worse and failed to do things which could help solve them, and in both cases fairly obvious things.

  • John B

    I doubt the State Department, which really controls things regarding these events, I think, is out of its depth.
    But, whether or not, my problem with them or Obama, would concern the selective application of treatment that seems designed to skew events and understandings.
    Mubarak was leaned on very heavily to jump while other dictators present and past, receive/d no such treatment.
    I think the real goals of what is happening will only become evident over time. I hope those goals are beneficial for humanity.
    The people who run things, the political and financial heavy weights, are neither stupid nor weak. If they were they would not be where they are.
    So it would seem likely that they achieve what they intend to achieve, in the long run, rather than the outcomes being unintentional mistakes, successes or accidents.

  • PeterT

    I remember reading a piece on the American Enterprise Institute criticising Obama for having said that the US could absorb a nuclear terrorist attack (not sure about the ‘nuclear’ bit). It struck me at the time that this sounded like one of the more sensible things I had ‘heard’ Obama say. The neocons no doubt would rather spend blood (and not mostly either that of American soldiers or terrorists) and fortune trying to hunt down the terrorists.

  • Laird

    “I think a post-American world is likely to be a damn sight worse than the above-mentioned groups believe. Unfortunately we’re about to find out in a real-life experiment.”

    Gene might be correct that we’re “about to find out”, but frankly I doubt it. Oh, we might not embark on any new foreign adventures, but clearly Obama & Co. are sufficiently invested in our current set that they’re not pulling back on any of them. Unfortunately.

    The US spends more on “defense” (talk about newspeak!) than the next 15 countries combined! (And many of those are our nominal allies in Europe.) We have military personnel stationed in nearly every country on the globe, and according to this article over 1,000 foreign bases. Apparently we have 227 bases in Germany alone (I’m not sure where all the German civilians live). Leaving aside the morality of this world-girdling miltary presence, we can no longer afford it. And frankly, as a US taxpayer I consider it neither my place nor my responsibility to serve as the world’s policeman.

    Gene might consider a post-American world a “damn sight worse” than it is today, and in some sense he’s probably correct. But you know what? I don’t care. Not my problem. I’m tired of cleaning up everyone else’s messes.

  • Laird

    Smited again! The smitebot blithely counsels patience.

    “Patience, n: A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

  • jdm

    I agreed with your original point, Johnathan, and I agree with the follow-up.

    And I still want to know what exactly Obama should’ve done? If he knew what he was doing, I mean.

  • We here spend at least half our blogging lives saying that governments should intervene less in their own countries’ internal affairs, because they don’t even understand the details of that, and will screw that up. The more I observe foreign interventions, the more I think the same applies to those, only more so.

    I just heard on the news that the US (and allies?) are enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. But even this no-fly zone might have bad results that neither Obama nor I now have any notion of. The idea is, or so I think I heard someone say, to stop GDaffy bombing his own people. But what if, e.g., it stops refugee planes getting out? Still, at least this is better than meddling in the details of what is happening on the ground.

    Naughty idea: What if Obama cozies up to the very nastiest of foreign dictators (Chav, the Cubans etc.) so that they will then be more speedily toppled? No I don’t really think that either. But might not something along those lines actually be the result? Foreign aid corrupts. Those receiving it get sloppy, take their eyes off the ball, etc. In other words, only send “aid” if your purpose is to trash the place.

    But I ramble. Basically what I am saying is: I agree.

  • ManikMonkee

    “only send “aid” if your purpose is to trash the place”

    +1

    seems to have worked everytime

  • Chuck6134

    I’m not one of those criticizing this President for “failing” to do much of anything on the current Middle East crisis. Since neither he nor the nation at large is willing to take any real steps but talk, his lack of material steps does not bother me.

    But I think his constant shifting of position and increasing ‘demands’ does no one any good. Egypt’s recent military coup highlights that. We went from cautionary talk to full flung calls for revolution. We ended up trading one old general for a cabal of them, not arguably a really positive step.

    The worst aspect for an American though to swallow is the cold fact Mr Obama has shown himself incompetent in dealing with any foreign problem. His single tactic has been babble. That has been a constant since Honduras 2009 and nothing seems to have changed since.

  • jdm: I agree with you and Jonathan on things that Obama didn’t do. But, it is also about the things he did do – see Rich Rostrom’s comment above.

    And, what John B. said.

  • andyinsdca

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and that’s what we see here. Obama and his crew are quite good at pressing the right buttons to agitate their base (unions, students, etc.) domestically, but internationally, he is feckless and impotent. Yes, the correct move for Egypt was do nothing, but he got that right by accident, not through any real thought process. His whole foreign policy has been a complete disaster; heck, he’s not invited to Prince Williams’ wedding, for FSM’s sake! That’s how pissed off the Royals are at the Obama administration. Can you imagine Regan, either Bush (or even Clinton) NOT being invited to such a soiree?

  • “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?”

    For broadly the same reason why the U.S. got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan – to kill bad guys and thereby support people wanting to be free of them. Gudaffi was no less a fascist dictator than Saddam was. It would be far better if such action was undertaken on an entirely voluntary basis but that criticism in itself is no disgrace to the value for which the U.S. military acts acts in such cases.

    The current President could at least have had the decency to ignore “face culture” nonsense and confront Hu Jintao publicly back in January – but he couldn’t even bring himself to do that other than with a pathetically brief paranthetical mention of “human rights”.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Gene writes:

    Johnathan has a funny definition of “mass-scale interventionism.” The most anyone has seriously called for is enforcing a no fly zone. The second most anyone’s called for is a simple “show” of force like putting a USN ship or two off the coast.

    Really? The impression I get is that we should take quite a lot more steps, if necessary, than just enforcing a no-fly zone. As for Egypt, there were all kinds of noises, of different types, saying that the US should bolster the existing regime (how?), or encourage its immediate demise (how?).

    Obama, and the US left in general, want to see a weakened US that, apart from an invasion of South Carolina or a martian attack, would never under any circumstances even consider military involvement anywhere, any time. In that respect they line up fairly well with libertarians. I for one cannot align myself with that kind of thinking for several reasons I’ll not go into here, and I think a post-American world is likely to be a damn sight worse than the above-mentioned groups believe. Unfortunately we’re about to find out in a real-life experiment.

    Well that may be true. Some libertarians – of the LewRockwell type – are only prepared to intervene in any conflict if the US/wherever has already been reduced to radioactive rubble. But for those of us a bit more rooted in reality, the reason for hesitancy in getting involved as the world’s policeman is for the reasons I stated – a sort of moral hazard issue. The rest of the world has got to start learning to pick up its own mess and taking responsibility for its own governance.

    The current position is to constantly call on the US/West for help, and as soon as the help arrives, the usual ingrates start bleating about US “imperialism”, etc. This cycle of plea-for-help/moaning has to stop, since it is infantalising.

  • “This cycle of plea-for-help/moaning has to stop, since it is infantalising.”

    Among the many things that have to be done is to make arguments against the mediating function of the State in delivering aid – whether military, medicinal or financial: this mediation must be reduced where it cannot yet be abolished (both States – the U.S. and that of whichever country is the recipient of that help). I have every confidence that free Americans would voluntarily help people in Libya and elsewhere around the world on a much larger scale and scope of activity than they do currently.

  • Paul Marks

    On Egypt Barack Obama did quite a lot.

    Wikileaks (for once not slanting its leaks to the left) leaked some time ago that even in the transition period from Bush to Obama in late 2008, State Department people (loyal to Obama – or, rather, with the same mindset) were actively working with both Communist and with Islamist groups based in Egypt (“PARANOID” – take that up with Wikileaks, not with me) to overthrow Mubarak.

    And the target date given in the files?

    2011.

    Since that time Barack Obama has had direct contact (almost every day) with union leaders who have been helping “organize” Egypt.

    Specifically with the head of the SEIU (one of the Communist Rathkie brothers) and with the Cong head of the AFL/CIU Richard Trumka (under the old rules of the AFL/CIU Comrade Richard would not be allowed to have any role in the organization – but those anti Red rules were quietly repealed some years ago).

    Of course I very much doubt that Egypt came up every time in the talks between Comrade Barack and his Comrades in the modern America union movement (a very different union movement from the nonCommunist movement that existed in the 1980s), but as Egypt was a prime target for the Communist movement (and for the “Islamist” allies of the moment – on the basis of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend) it is logical to assume that target Egypt came up from time to time in their discussions.

    So when Mubarak (himself the inheritor of a statist system – but one that, under Sadat, had moved a bit away from socialism) came under pressure, Comrade Barack was ready. Ready to put a knife in the back of someone who (inspite of all his faults) had been a loyal ally of the United States for 30 years.

    Of course the very fact that he had been a loyal ally of the United States to 30 years would be enough to make Barack hate him (regardless of any human rights abuses).

    As for Libya:

    A different situtation.

    The “mainstream” media are trying hard to hide the fact that the dicator of Libya is a life long (and fanatical) socialist – but the situation is harder to distort than Egypt.

    In Egypt one can say “look, big privately owned factories and stuff – clearly Mubarack was a tool of the rich and the big business” a lie, but a plausible one.

    To play this game with Libya is much harder. I doubt that Comrade Barack likes the Islamic Socialist dicator or Libya (Muammar al-Qaddafi is a wacko – “chaotic evil” in children’s role playing game terms, whereas Comrade Barack is more “lawful evil” a loyal and disciplined member of the international collectivist movement, whose life long hatred of the United States is kept under strict control in public, and “chaotic evil”and “lawful evil” types do not tend to get on well).

    As for putting U.S. Navy assets into the Med – a very good idea. Both to deal with the demented Libyan dicator (who has become a problem – even for the international socalist movement) and to counter another “chaotic evil” force…….

    The Iranians are putting forces into the Med – as part of the chaotic evil dream of spreading “fire and blood” all over the world so that the 12 Iman will return.

    “Paul you are treating the world as if it was a AD&D game”.

    Presently that is what it is.

    And, oddly enough, on both the Libyan dictator and the Iranian regime, we should actually be in ALLIANCE with Barack Obama.

    This is because, although he is utterly evil (i.e. believes in no limitations to the growth of collectivism – and will tell any lie and commit any crime to further this cause) he is also “lawful evil” (sane). Whereas the Islamic Socialist ruler of Libya and the “Hastener” rulers of Iran are “chaotic evil” (insane – mad).

    The problem is that I am not sure that Comrade Barack sees the situation clearly.

    For example, for many years he has USED religion. His (repeated) talk of “collective salvation” reveals Comrade Barack as a Liberation Theology man (even if he had never worked with “Rev.” J. Wright he would be shown to be one by his own words) – in short Comrade Barack is an athiest who USES religion.

    Hardly “rightwing paranoia” – after all even Bill M. (on HBO) stated that Barack is a “Christian in the same way he is a centerist” and then laughed.

    Fair enough (many people are athiests – although I do havea problem with athiests pretending to be religious) – but the problem is that Comrade Barack may think that other political leaders are like him.

    He knows plently of “Islamic Socialists” who are not really Muslims – so he may assume that (for example) the leadership in Iran do not really believe in all this “supernatural stuff” either.

    The trouble is that they do.

    The objective of Comrade Barack is world collectivism – a sort of “Star Trek: New Generation” type society. This would not work – but he things it would (that is the divide in politics).

    However, this is NOT the objective of the Iranian leadership (in the Med or anywhere else).

    Their objective is to cover the world with “fire and blood” so that the 12 Iman may ride in on his white horse.

    And their Sunni Muslim allies (such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood – which has 50 chapters in the United States and which controls most “mainstream” Muslim organizations in the United States) have the same objective – accept that they deny that the being on the whilte horse would be the 12th Iman, to them he is simply “the Mahdi”.

    But they are cool with the whole “cover the world with fire and blood” thing.

    I am not sure that Barack really understands this.

  • Dale Amon

    Best thing we can do is stay clear. It has nothing to do with us. Let people make their own choices and live with them.

  • Paul Marks

    If you were a leftist I would scream “HYPOCRITE” at you Dale – but you are NOT.

    In fact you are in favour of opening up American land to private energy development (oil, oil shale, natural gas, nuclear – and so on).

    If that was done then people really could turn round and say “Middle East? What as that got to do with us”. Although energy supplies take years to develop – and America may just have run out of time.

    But the left prevent the opening up of energy resources in the United States – and then still pretend it does not matter if the Middle East is overrun by followers of the Mahdi (if Sunni) or the 12th Iman (if “hastener” Shia).

    Although by the way……

    THIS IS NOT AND HAS NEVER BEEN ABOUT PEOPLE MAKING THEIR OWN CHOICES.

    From the start whether these factions rule or noy is about how good they are in battle (including street battles) – not in some fluffy libertarian choice.

    That is why to say (as some do) that an interventist policy is imoral is wrong.

    It is not imoral as politics in this part of the world(apart from the domestic politics of Israel) is (and has always been) about force anyway. So the American military is not bringing force into the politics of the Middle East – force is all this politics is about anyway.

    However, (as you say) intervention may be STUPID even if it is not imporal.

    Letting them slaughter each other may (or may not) be the best (or least bad) policy.

  • Laird

    Paul, I’m not following your argument. “That is why to say (as some do) that an interventist policy is imoral is wrong.” So then in your mind such a policy is moral? Because the US declines to develop its own oil reserves, and thus is forced to depend upon middle eastern sources, that somehow gives it a moral right to intervene in the domestic politics of those nations in order to keep the oil flowing? That may be realpolitik, but it’s hardly morality. And since politics in that region is based on naked force, that makes it OK for us to emulate it? Or am I misunderstanding you?

  • Bod

    Just to field your update, Johnathan …

    As you state, I’m not persuaded, but it’s very, very clear that not *just* Obama, but the whole apparatus of the EO (especially the State Department) are completely at sea on this.

    Should the US intervene? Personally, I think they shouldn’t have and in general, I’m pretty Clausewitzian; but throwing more blood and treasure into foreign conflicts on behalf of a largely skeptical public with no clear objective doesn’t make much sense to me in this situation.

    However (and if it wasn’t clear before, and this is my real beef with the morons down in DC), once you do stand back and do nothing (thru’ fear, uncertainty, treason or whatever), then there’s not much that a nation like the US really does need to do, except having the diplomats do the kind of thing the public would expect them to do – assist US citizens, interceding wherever they can with their local expertise and influence to provide as much safety and relief for them as possible.

    I have two colleagues in Egypt who had very little assistance from the US Embassy in Cairo, and had to make their way out via Alexandria; in fact, the extent of the assistance was an automated (or really bad human) email when they requested guidance on their best options in ‘avoiding trouble’.

    They didn’t want a helicopter to lift them out from the compound, a night-time truck ride to the border, or a set of fake passports. They wanted advice; and they had no answer while they were in Egypt, which they were for a couple of days after the unrest began. They themselves felt they were not in immediate danger, and their request was low-key. But they got nothing. No bulletins, no ‘The office advises US Nationals to avoid Tahrir Square and please comply with government curfews’ – nothing.

    Yes, it’s an anecdote, but seriously, if you can’t expect some limited advice and assitance, what good is the diplomatic corps? Apart from espionage and hosting expensive parties for despots, of course.

    Now, having said that, I’ll reveal my ignorance of just how much effect (and day to day control) the State Department exercises over particular embassies. Just how much does a Clinton-directed department differ from a Rice-directed department when it comes to such basic activities? I dunno, but it sure looks to everyone at my firm that the embassy screwed up.

    The buck stops solidly on Obama’s desk, but I’m reluctant (even now, in March 2011) to blame it on perfidy, his being a secret Muslim or a Kenyan; I think that policy cluelessness and his inability to assemble a team that has any clear vision or capability is the explanation. Nothing more sinister than a nation, led by a (very) average intellect, driven by a failed ideology, being advised by a pack of average sycophants.

    Exposed to the real world, these people couldn’t run a Dominos Pizza franchise, unless there was some kind of federal subsidy given for them.

  • Laird

    I agree with Bod, especially that last sentence.

  • jsallison

    Well let me weigh anchor on the SS Iconoclastia for a moment. I do seem to recall reading in various fora in times past that it was possible that taking down the late, unremarked Saddam and establishing some sort of representative government in Iraq might provide a salutary example for numerous other benighted satrapies. Perhaps this wasn’t too far off the mark in the end result, but rather just a bit slower getting it’s move on.

    Now far be it from me to imply or infer that Bush the Younger was anything other than Cthulhu’s evil twin but it seems worthy of consideration.

  • M

    The anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya do have some military planes and helicopters in their possession and some pilots have defected to them. Now, if the ‘international community’ were to impose a no-fly zone, would this mean they would have to shoot down the airforce of the anti-Gaddafi people as well as Gaddafi’s?

  • Kim du Toit

    Two words to describe Obama’s foreign “policy”:

    Timorous Incompetence

    It’s the hallmark of someone who actually believes all those scary bedtime stories about how American power is evil, and who therefore shrinks from ever using it.

    His previous record as a senator (state and national), wherein he voted “present” instead of casting a yes or no, should have been a good indicator (and indeed it was, for those of us who care about such things).

    Since the 1950s, US Democrats have had an absolutely appalling record in foreign policy, and Obama is simply continuing that proud tradition of incompetence.

  • I think that everyone here misses an important point: Obama largely does not care about what is going on outside the US, as long as it does not have a direct bearing on his internal agenda – and at this point it mostly doesn’t. ‘Disinterested’ is not the same as ‘incompetent’. Obama is mostly disinterested. To the (very narrow) extent that he is interested, he is quite competent at pursuing his agenda, as per Rich Rostrom’s comment above among other things.

  • I’m a bit puzzled why some people think it’s the job of US diplomacy to “get US nationals out”, or even advise them how to get out. If you don’t know how to get out of a country you shouldn’t have gone there in the first place. And anyone who has travelled will know that ambassadors and consuls and such people are usually pretty out of touch with what’s going on. You might as well ask the Queen for advice on how to stretch the family budget.

    I seriously doubt that the British ambassador in Istanbul has a periscope for looking up women’s skirts in the Russian embassy office: but if he has, then I doubt it’s used for any other purpose.

    If Wikileaks has taught us anything it’s that the entire diplomatic corps of every country in the world could be disbanded tomorrow and there would be no observable outcome, certainly not a negative one. These people don’t actually do anything except send the occasional precis of the local press back to Blighty and get themselves kidnapped from time to time.

    Like Laird, I do not follow Paul Marks’ argument either, though I’m sure he has a very good one. Perhaps some clarification might be helpful.

  • Kim du Toit

    “I’m a bit puzzled why some people think it’s the job of US diplomacy to “get US nationals out”, or even advise them how to get out.”

    Protecting its own citizens is the primary (some would say only) function of any nation-state, regardless of locale.

    The US State Department routinely issues warnings against going to various countries for all the usual reasons (safety, instability etc), but US citizens are not bound to heed such warnings except in very specific circumstances.

    This is similar to pre-hurricane conditions, when people are warned by government to leave the area. Most do; some don’t. Even if they don’t, the government is still obliged to help them out of the consequences of their own stupidity.

    It’s oen of the few redeeming features of government, even though I personally think that anyone who knowingly puts themself in danger deserves neither aid nor sympathy, post facto.

    What characterizes most governments (and the US most conspicuously) is the inefficient, pathetic methods they employ to do so, the Libyan situation being the most egregious example.

    Sailing a US Navy carrier into Libya to carry off US citizens is the simplest (and most effective) method that comes to mind — but no way was this Administration ever going to countenance that action, because it might be deemed “too provocative” (a cowardly rationale, see my post above).

  • Paul Marks

    I am sorry I did not make myself clear Laird – I will have another go.

    American intervention in Afghanistan was nothing to do with oil – because Afghanistan does not have any.

    And American intervention in Iraq was nothing to do with oil either – because Saddam was quite happy to sell oil to anyone.

    American intervention in Iraq really was about spreading democracy (classic Woodrow Wilson stuff) and overthrowing as nasty dictator (who really did fund anti American groups).

    One can argue that such a policy was STUPID (I did at the time – and back in 2003 such a position was not so popular as it is now), but it is hardly imoral.

    As for Libya:

    I am still unconvinced by the case for intervention – but (as with Iraq in 2003) I am very uncomfortable with the side I find myself on.

    Take yesterday’s British “Daily Mail” newspaper – I bought a copy because it had a big story on the LSE leftist academics (pals of Ed Milliband) who were in bed with Gaddafi.

    Yet inside the newspaper I first found an article by Max Hastings on why we should not get involved in Libya.

    I despise Max Hastings – I do not want to be on the same side as him (on anything).

    Then there was an article by Andrew Alexander on the same topic.

    However, Mr Alexander also ranted on about how Vietnam was not really about Communism (it was about “nationalism”, the Robert McNamara bullshit) and how evil America, quite rightly, “inevitably” lost.

    And, for good (or rather bad) measure, Mr Alexander then had a good rant about how evil Israel is responsible for all the problems of the Middle East.

    As if (for example) more than a thousand years of Islamic attacks on Europe were due to Israel.

    I do not want to be on the same side as these weird Sean Gabb type people (well that is unfair – Mr Alexander and so on are not as extreme as Sean Gabb).

    But it seems I am on the same side – which makes me uncomfortable (to put it mildly).

  • Laird

    Thanks, Paul, that is far more clear. You’re opposed to intervention in Libya, but you find yourself in agreement about this with some people whom you despise. Fear not: that doesn’t put you “on the same side” as them in any meaningful sense, it just means that you reached the same conclusion on this one issue via different means. When the choice is binary, either “yes” or “no”, you’re likely to have a motley collection on both sides.

    Incidentally, I agree with you on non-intervention. Let the Libyans sort out their own mess.

  • Jacob

    EndivioR:
    “If you don’t know how to get out of a country you shouldn’t have gone there in the first place. And anyone who has travelled will know that ambassadors and consuls and such people are usually pretty out of touch with what’s going on. ”

    Perfectly true and correct.
    I lived in a foreign country or two for some time and witnessed first hand how totally clueless and stupid diplomats are. For example: the US could not find Spanish speakers to mann a South American mission. And Israel couldn’t find a Russian speaker to send to it’s Moscow embassy.

    As to Lybia or Egypt – in the past the US found ways, sometimes covert ones, to send money and arms to groups it wished to encourage. It could have done so in Lybia and Egypt. That is, unless Obama did help the wrong people, intentionally, as per Paul Marks.

  • I was being facetious and provocative (you’ll get used to it). I do actually think some diplomats have a clue, though appointment to such positions has always struck me as being very un-meritocratic and very old school tie in some cases. But that’s by the by.

    The Peruvian novelist Vargas Llosa (whom I admire to bits, but that’s also by the by) wrote a novel about the last days of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. In that novel, it’s left unclear whether or not the gun is supplied by the US embassy, but once Trujillo is dead and the country is poised between business as usual with one of his heirs or an adventure into the uncharted waters of democracy, a US warship quietly but very meaningfully stations itself off the coast of Ciudad Trujillo, and, we’re led to understand, that is enough. I don’t know how historical that is. However, those days are clearly over.

    Re: Paul’s clarification.

    I think “oil had nothing to do with Iraq” is a trifle simplistic. I find it hard to think of Rumsfeld as other than rubbing his hands in glee at the business that an intervention would bring Halliburton. But maybe I’ve been brainwashed by the Left.

    I don’t know what anti American groups Saddam funded. A name or two would be interesting. But I assume, bar correction, that he and Al Qaeda were indeed sworn enemies as the opponents of invasion were quick to point out at the time.

    I’m mildly curious as to whether anyone here actually supports “intervention” in Libya. I also have seen no concrete evidence that such intervention is indeed on the cards. At the moment, here in Absurdistan the leftist commentators are using the spectre of invasion by the US as a pretext for not noticing that Gaddafi is bombing his own people. (Normal moral outrage will, we assume, be resumed shortly).

  • At the moment, here in Absurdistan the leftist commentators are using the spectre of invasion by the US as a pretext for not noticing that Gaddafi is bombing his own people.

    Presumably, as opposed to bombing some other people whom he does not own.

  • One Che was enough…