Eight days ago, I expressed my serious irritation with President Obama for appearing to be unable to make up his mind what he wanted to do with regard to Libya. My distress was directly related to the need to confront fascists with a clear response, backed up by action, not just words. If the decision was not to attack, so be it, but make that clear. If it was, as it appeared to be at the time and indeed was, a decision to attack, then get to it and stop appearing to be confused and indecisive (dithering and dallying, to use older English words). The worst thing you can do when confronted with a fascist at war is to talk and not act.
Some said it might be because our government knew something we didn’t know and was taking its time for a good reason. Well, it turned out to be a matter of a severe disagreement among advisors that required President Obama to make a decision and, finally, he did.
Now it is underway with the typical results of military action, particularly in the early days…uncertainty as to the outcome. However, despite my approval of their having finally made the decision to stand by the principles they say they represent, I now have to deal with the other great problem – the lack of effective leadership.
Europe is a mess. European “Union”, hardly. I think the analysts at Stratfor summed it up in their analysis today:
Europeans are not united in their perceptions of the operation’s goals — or on how to wage the operation. The one thing the Europeans share is a seeming lack of an exit strategy from a struggle originally marketed as a no-fly zone akin to that imposed on Iraq in 1997 to a struggle that is actually being waged as an airstrike campaign along the lines of the 1999 campaign against Serbia, with the goal of regime change mirroring that of the 2001 Afghan and 2003 Iraq campaigns.
That is not “mission creep”. That is mission confusion.
As for the US, once again, President Obama has failed to communicate effectively with either his party or his employers, the American people. The Democrats are splintering. Their liberal-left (“progressive”) coalition is unraveling at this point. On the one hand, we have Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider arguing Why The War In Libya Is America’s Most Principled War In Decades while Leslie Gelb at the Daily Beast complains about The Horrible Libya Hypocrisies.
Gelb’s essay is led by a sentence that should be deeply disturbing to anyone who supports President Obama.
Neocons and liberal interventionists stampeded Obama into imposing a no-fly zone against Libya—despite the absence of vital U.S. interests there.
Good lord, do those who told us that Barack Obama was an intelligent man who stood head and shoulders (or more) above George W. Bush now treat him as if he is some sort of doofus, dumbie, nitwit who can be “stampeded” into a war? I suppose this is one way of trying to release Obama from too much of the guilt that Gelb thinks is appropriate, but it’s a very sad note and another indication of the crumbling of the coalition that first brought the Senator Obama of 2008 to the forefront of Democratic politics and, eventually, to the White House. And now it appears that Dennis Kucinich once again is laying the foundation for another attempt at the Democratic nomination in 2012. An unhappy left-wing now has its excuse to bolt.
I believe that Barack Obama is a very intelligent man, whether I agree with him or not. His failing is his continuing inability to communicate with the people he needs to have behind him, whether Democrats or the American people as a whole. Without communication, a leader loses his followers. With as much stress as we now all face on this planet, that communication is incredibly important. But I do not fault President Obama alone. He has plenty of company in Europe. In one sense, President Obama leads a coalition government every bit as shaky those led by David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and others. They all have too much in common, but not the right stuff.
This is why I am so hesitant to write on the politics of the Old World of the North Atlantic. Whether you agree with their various leaders or not, the simple fact is that you cannot ignore the astounding disarray, both among these leaders and among their supporters. Metaphorical words like “circus” and “zoo” come to mind much too easily.
If I were to advise any of these leaders, I would suggest they sit and read the words of another American President during a very difficult time. Only two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt led a nation where there was no question about America’s “involvement” in the war we call World War Two. Despite the unity of his party and Congress in entering that war, there were those who criticized the decision and many who feared the results of that decision. Understandably, Americans wanted to know why it was happening and what the plan was for its implementation.
On the 210th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, February 23rd of 1942, President Roosevelt delivered one of his famous “fireside chats”. He spoke to the American public by radio. There was no way to read his face or to see graphs, maps, charts and so forth. The average adult American of that time had an eighth-grade education. He could have chosen to give a “cheerleader” speech, relying on patriotic emotion to gain support. Instead, he chose to treat the American people as intelligent adults. I read his presentation today and I wonder when we will have another American President who can communicate even half as effectively as he did. Note: Roosevelt uses the term “United Nations”. He is not referring to the UN we know. That was the term at that time for those we now call the “Allies”.
No, the Libyan War is not World War Two. That’s not the point. The point is to communicate. The point is to lead.
So it is that I recommend to you that you take a few minutes to read Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to the American people on that winter day 68 years ago. If someone out there has Barack Obama’s ear, perhaps they can pass this along.
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