Dear Mr. President,
This is the part of your hero’s journey where you’re tempted to refuse the return. Having ascended to the greatest height of political power our planet offers, you have been expected for some time to bring the boon back from the heavens and bestow it upon the world, or at least upon your ideological fellows. As you’re fond of saying, elections have consequences.
You have done some of this. But in matters of war, of geopolitics, of, say, Guantanamo Bay, you have not. (There are some 70 fewer detainees at Guantanamo under the current administration, and Obama has reserved the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without trial. The Bush Administration released some 500 detainees itself, leaving 242, compared to Mr. Obama’s remaining 172. Yes, you can read that to say that George Bush release 10x as many Guantanamo detainees as has the man who made promising to close the facility and axiomatic plank in his election platform.) Some might say, sir, that you are keeping the boon.
This brings me to Libya, where the complaint from many has been that U.S. air-strikes there, and our larger assumed role, smack of Bush Era (that is, like, so0000 three years ago) policy. On Monday night, you tried to diffuse that.
You said, if I may paraphrase:
- Some nations may turn a blind eye toward looming humanitarian crisis, but the United States is different. (American exceptionalism on Line one, sir.)
- We are engaging in military action in Libya to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
- We are protecting innocent civilians from the brutality of their own government.
- We are preemptively ensuring that the likely exodus of destabilizing refugees into Tunisia and Egypt won’t happen. (Preemption on Line 2.)
- We are not fighting on the rebels’ behalf.
- Our goal is not regime change.
- Our military action is focused on preventing a humanitarian crisis, but our larger interests (and our role in Libya’s future) is open-ended. Because:
- Our military goal is short and concise, but our long-term geopolitical, nay, geosocial goal is nation-building. (Campaign rhetoric denouncing nation-building is lighting the hell up on Line 3, Mr. President).
- But remember, our military goal is not regime change.
- But our larger, peaceful, goal, once regime change happens, is nation-building.
- We have a duty (and an implied right) to do this.
- We, the Administration, is really afraid of the phrase “regime-change.” Except freaking Hillary. Biden thinks it’s about the revolving cast of former popstars endorsing ProActiv.
Because you’re Barack Obama, I need to say something about your delivery. The speech was clear in small pieces, but lacked the uniting coherence that got you elected (probably because it lacked all of the ideology that got you elected). At times, you seemed overly defensive. Clintonian. Which makes sense, given that I can’t be alone in thinking this is Hillary’s Kosovo.
What you need to do now:
Convince us that everything going on in the Middle East and North Africa will not end with yet another summit of rich Western nations drawing lines on maps. We’ve been there before, sir, (see, if you’re Woodrow Wilson, nationalism and self-determination are all well and good for anyone north of the Mediterranean) and it, more than freedom, is why proponents of Arab nationalism and Islamism so often define themselves against a what they see as a recalcitrant, oppressive, evil West.
You’re on quite a tight rope. Of course we can’t stand idly by while people are slaughtered by their governments, but shit, Mr. President, doesn’t it feel awful opportunistic to say that we’ll go ahead and spend our troops and treasure when there’s a humanitarian crisis that just so happens to also involve American (and let’s not forget NATO) interests? Doesn’t that sound like so much bullshit? Doesn’t that sound like imperialism? What you’ve said, in effect, is that you won’t wait to see images of carnage before we act (asterisk) when there’s a clear and compelling national interest in stopping that carnage. It’s like we’ve forgotten about the oil in Sudan, and that it goes, of all places, to China. But yes, let’s secure Italy’s, France’s, and Spain’s Libyan reserves post haste, Mr. President. This is alliance at its finest.
Mr. Obama, I don’t envy your job. I don’t envy your responsibilities. But I do have to live with the consequences of how you choose to execute your duties. There’s that word again, consequences. The consequences of your administration seem to be a muddled, confused, engagement against a regime that has, by any standard, forfeited its already-tenuous right to rule. I understand that you don’t want to seem eager to orchestrate Gaddafi’s ouster (Ms. Clinton on Line 4, sir), and I respect that. You’ve also said things like “Gaddafi must go”, but you announced yesterday that you’re not ready, yet, to call for negotiations that would send him packing. That’s a little too cautious given that we’re already bombing him, don’t you think? Actually, that’s the whole problem: you have to be overly cautious about calling for regime change precisely because we’re bombing him, don’t you?
What a mess. Suspicion of chemical weapons in Libya is on Line 5. There’s a G.W. Bush on Line 6, and he’s ready to help with your next crack at this.