Thursday, March 31, 2011

Obama on his own

A couple of weeks ago, CNN’s empty suit Wolf Blitzer, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothes David Gergen, and a gaggle of others followed right-wing talk’s lead by pounding Barack Obama for taking his long-delayed trip to insignificant Latin America and not making a “definitive” statement on military action in Libya. Given the fact that until a month ago, nobody had any idea that we’d even have a reason for getting involved there, the charge was little more than media hot air to stir up a little drama for ratings. Obama was criticized for not puffing his chest out like a tin-cup “Dick-Tater”—that was George Bush in a MadTV skit—and not relying on false or made-up information as an excuse to go to war; that kind of thing is supposed to be “presidential.”

The interesting thing here is that since Vietnam, getting involved in major combat operations seems to be a preoccupation of the Bush family. Nixon had to wrap-up Vietnam, and now Obama was left with Iraq and Afghanistan. And despite the alleged foreign policy acumen of Nixon and Kissinger, Vietnam didn’t exactly turnout the way that was intended. As tough-talking Ronald Reagan was, he was like Gen. George B. McClellan: he never had enough troops or firepower to risk getting a job done, and cut-and-run at the first sign of resistance (as in Beirut, which actually was to his credit). The only major operation Reagan would risk was “rescuing” a couple of Americans in tiny Grenada against a more or less equal number of Grenadans armed with brickbats; even in that minor operation, there was criticism about the lack of coordination between the various armed services. Of course, Bill Clinton was involved in Bosnia, but that was another tiny country where our involvement didn’t go beyond bombing and actual peace-keeping; we didn’t commit ground forces until a peace agreement was signed in Dayton.

The media seemed not to mind the blood and guts being spilled in Iraq and Afghanistan, so long as Bush gave CNN reporters an opportunity to go in and play pretend soldier and make like they were famous like Ernie—or is that Gomer?—Pyle. We didn’t really need to go into Iraq to remove a dictator who was already marginalized in order to install an unstable government which may well fall into another unfriendly—and perhaps more threatening to U.S. interests—dictatorship once our forces pull out completely. Afghanistan has proved to be a country where central government has always been and always will be a myth. Even the Taliban only “controlled” the country by making “deals” with warlords and tribal leaders. The only “best” scenario in Afghanistan is insuring a “friendly” presence in Kabul that won’t act as a sponsor of Al Qaeda. We probably wouldn’t have needed to concern ourselves with even that if the Bush administration hadn’t completely botched the search effort for Bin Laden and allowed him and his operatives to escape into Pakistan.

I’ve talked to people from India and Algeria about the goings-on in the Middle East, and from what I gathered from their attitudes is that the U.S. is in a damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don’t situation. What is a country to do if it only wants stable, not-unfriendly governments to deal with? Like any place the U.S. touches on this tar-baby, there’s a catch-22: In Libya, in getting rid of Qaddafi (I think that’s today’s spelling) may mean installing an Al Qaeda-friendly government. In the meantime, as in post-Gulf War Iraq, it’s an open question whether rebels are strong enough to take advantage of NATO airstrikes; was it not just a few days ago that loyalist forces were in full retreat before the rebels? Today, it is the rebels who are in retreat. Tomorrow, who knows?

Let’s be frank: Obama was not agitating for military action in Libya (let alone Iraq and Afghanistan): It was Britain and France “before it was too late,” and a cable news media that wanted to be seen to be on the side of “the people”—quite unlike they are here—agitating for “presidential” action. If U.S. air power and the Europeans—having agitated for military action, Britain and France did seem rather loath to "take charge," since it is always convenient to have the U.S. take the blame if something goes awry—can manage to oust Qaddafi with minimal Allied bloodshed, Obama should rightly receive credit for pursing a “regime change” strategy much more intelligently than Bush and his armchair warrior crew.

As if Obama doesn’t have enough problems on his table, there’s Hillary Clinton to contend with. I saw a supermarket tabloid claiming that the Kennedy Clan is “begging” Clinton to run against Obama in 2012, but that’s just a minor detail. Clinton has done almost nothing to advance any coherent foreign policy strategy that might put the Obama administration in a favorable light, while advancing her own pet causes independent of the overall “picture.” Consider: A few weeks ago, Newsweek had a cover story featuring Clinton; she is “breaking glass ceilings” all over the world, it proclaimed. Newsweek didn’t mean being secretary of state—Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice preceded her in that role; in two years, Clinton has been on more magazine covers for doing less than the both of them combined. In fact I don’t think either Albright or Rice have ever appeared on the cover of Newsweek or TIME. With the Middle East aflame, it seems that Newsweek sought to place Clinton front and center stage; unfortunately, they couldn’t find anything useful that Clinton had actually accomplished, so the publication backed into gender politics. So instead of solving problems in global hotspots, Clinton seems more in tuned with advancing her personal agenda (perhaps as a way of “getting even” with the male cabal that doesn’t take her as seriously as she prefers)—that is to say continuing a version of the failed U.S. policy of meddling in cultural issues in Third World countries rather than trying to help them establish sound economic foundations in exchange for access to resources, as China is wisely doing. As I noted in a previous post, the U.S. “help” in Third World countries amounts to little more than band aids to prevent excessive hemorrhaging. “Self-esteem” programs in poverty-stricken countries is like telling a starving person without employment that feeling better about themselves will make everything seem sunny and bright; the problem is, they’re still starving and without employment. Clinton’s foreign policy credentials amount to little more than Being There (as in the Peter Sellers movie), which however hasn’t stopped the politicized media from putting her on a pedestal.

Clinton’s international gender empowerment crusade has its merits, so long as we recognize that it has more to do with her vindictive and self-aggrandizing nature, which was amply revealed in “Game Change,” although not in the upcoming movie adaptation I’m sure; Clinton’s angry feminist supporters (including the infamous Harriet Christian) who heaped derision and abuse on Obama during and after the 2008 primaries probably more closely resembles her own personality more than we’d like to know. I’ve noted in an earlier post that during the two years she was virtually invisible as secretary of state, she was busy consolidating her personal fiefdom. Her “diplomatic” skills were only occasionally on display, as when she revealed her thin-skin by blowing her top and scolding a male Congolese student whose interpreter still thought Bill Clinton was president. Meanwhile, there has been virtually no progress on the North Korean, Palestinian and Iranian fronts, no thanks to Clinton. That might not be altogether fair; after all, there hasn’t been much progress on those fronts for a decade or two. On the other hand, Clinton hasn’t been noted for bringing fresh ideas to the table, besides the gender stuff. With the media and political pundits placing all the burden of diplomatic success or failure on Obama’s shoulders, Clinton has been shielded from criticism; whether or not the façade created by the media and her fanatical phalanx of supporters will hold-up if Clinton decides to advance her political career further is another matter.

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