Ineffective, indecisive, lacking leadership, cowardly. These are words I never thought to use to describe the President of the United States. Yet they are descriptive of his failure in the Middle East and North Africa. Many people (including myself) can talk of morality and the terrible horror that Gadhafi continues to visit upon his own people. We can draw comparisons dating back almost 80 years where we have dithered while people in foreign lands were massacred for having the temerity to stand for what they believed. We can talk about being caring human beings and concerned and “on their side.” But talk is cheap and for Obama it seems to be free. Even today in his press conference (was he expecting the first question to be about Libya? I was happy about that) he danced around the facts. He mentioned that “if” Gadhafi were to go door to door rooting out protesters he (Obama) would see that as an “overreaction.” Well, Mr. President, in Zawia yesterday it is reported that he was doing just that, going door to door and grabbing young men and hauling them off to unknown, and unseen, places. What will you do? Why did you not even acknowledge that he is attacking innocent civilians brutally and without mercy? Why didn’t you acknowledge reports of massacres already happening? Why didn’t you acknowledge that in the last 24 hours he has attacked his own cities with tanks, artillery and aircraft? In my own view it is because you have no passion, no knowledge and no guts.
But, if we step back from all the empty rhetoric, and from the personal tragedy, the central issue from a strategic and diplomatic perspective is that by our indecision, inaction and failure to lead, we are losing the youth of the Middle East. Which means we are losing the Middle East. Now, many would say that the Middle East hates us anyway. True, in some sense, but only because we have supported and continue to support oppressive, outmoded and stifling regimes. With the recent uprisings has come a unique, possibly once in a lifetime, opportunity to not only get on the right side of history but to endear ourselves to an entire generation of Middle Eastern, moderate, democratic, youth. And we are squandering it. Obama is not leading, he is trying to reach consensus. He is making a fundamental strategic mistake.
The Middle East is a developing part of the world, rich in oil reserves and not much else. It is also dominated by youth. It is predominantly Muslim and, as the idiotic hearings being held by Congressman King demonstrate, our relationship with Muslims at home, in the Middle East and throughout the world is at best strained. America has significant long term strategic interests in the region and in peace in the region and therefore in our relationship with Muslim youth. We also have a long term strategic interest in combating terrorism and hatred of the US.
Supporting these uprisings is one strategic opportunity we have to help ourselves with Muslim youth and to enhance our power in the region. We are squandering it by sending the message we are sending in Libya. Hosni Mubarak is probably sitting in his hotel room saying “Damn, why didn’t I just crush the protesters? The US wouldn’t have done anything and I could be sitting pretty.” That is certainly how Asad and Ahmadinejad will think and frankly that is probably similar to what the Saudis are thinking. Therein lies the rub. If we do nothing or if we do to little to late, we will have not only squandered the opportunity but emboldened our enemies. Gadhafi is a relatively easy target. Ahmadinejad is not and if he becomes emboldened he will not only crush his own opposition, he may become adventurous. Oman, Iraq could be targets. Is that the position we want – being forced to fight Iran, when we could have prevented the venture by defeating Gadhafi? That is just stupid. Another word I never thought I would call Obama.