February 27, 2011

Obama Bleeding Credibility as Protesters Bleed

Last Wednesday, as violence proliferated across Libya, President Barack Obama issued his first speech on Africa’s newest revolution. Having released a written statement shortly after February 15th, when several hundred Libyans gathered in Benghazi to protest the arrest of Fathi Terbil, Obama went silent as the State Department took command. In Voice of America’s own words, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became “the primary public face and voice of the U.S. response.”

Sadly, a reoccurring theme.

Seemingly begging for such momentous change during his campaign, Obama has receded from the spotlight as the Muslim world transforms before his eyes. For someone allegedly obsessed with public relations, Obama’s decision (or indecision) to let others speak for him has entangled America’s overall response. While Obama may believe he’s saving himself for “the big moments” - times of gushing bloodshed or immediate regime change - his delays over the past month have spilled innocent blood in the streets.

And delegation to his officials disregards how Muslims feel about certain U.S. policymakers. They want Obama, the one American they believed they could trust. They don’t want anything to do with Clintons and Bidens.

No longer enjoying the luxury of waiting as death counts escalated, the White House refreshed its page on February 23rd, blaring Libya beside a stoic Obama. By February 20th casualty figures already reached the hundreds as Muammar Gaddafi unleashed the functioning parts of his military, his mercenaries, and paid Libyans off the streets. Rumors into the thousands circulated by February 23rd.

But Obama coolly explained to reporters, “In a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice, and that has been our focus. Yesterday a unanimous U.N. Security Council sent a clear message that it condemns the violence in Libya, supports accountability for the perpetrators, and stands with the Libyan people.”

Nearly four days later, Obama finally did get America up to speed with the international community after calling for Gaddafi’s immediate exit. The Washington Post reports, “Obama made the statement in a telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bringing his policy in line with what European leaders began calling for several days ago.”

Clearly the White House does see something wrong with its response, because explanations for Obama’s delay immediately followed. Reading from the Egyptian script, his administration continues to maintain its line that “Libya’s future will be decided by the people.” To preserve this criteria, the White House later summarized his remarks: "When a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.”

Clinton echoed this sentiment by insisting, "We have always said that the [Gaddafi] government's future is a matter for the Libyan people to decide, and they have made themselves clear. "[Gaddafi] has lost the confidence of his people and he should go, without further bloodshed and violence."

However Washington has already violated its “principle” in Egypt and other U.S. allies such as Bahrain and Yemen, raising questions of its applicability to Libya. At no time did the White House and Pentagon actually leave Egypt up to Egyptians, from Clinton’s initial support of Mubarak to the Suleiman option to the military council installed to oversee the transition. This council is widely criticized for protecting Mubarak’s entrenched allies and, after repeated use of force on protesters, may soon confront another mass movement.

And yet Obama continues to preach, in strictest sense of the word, “Now, throughout this period of unrest and upheaval across the region the United States has maintained a set of core principles which guide our approach. These principles apply to the situation in Libya. As I said last week, we strongly condemn the use of violence in Libya... Let me be clear. The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region. This change doesn’t represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life.”

Words of someone trying to catch up - who doesn’t believe the United States has fully expressed its core principles.

Declaring that “the whole world” is watching, Obama seems oblivious to being tested himself. We know this to be untrue though, given reports of his dissatisfaction over his perception. Obama believes his office should be responding differently to this historic moment, wonders how and why he’s on the wrong side. That leaves him simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of events and his own circle, whose updates he repeatedly emphasizes as if they were a good thing.

The American presidency was conceived to resolve deadlocks during emergencies, a system that works well with a decisive commander and rigid chain of command. But the Oval Office's downside is currently on display. Obama has shown an explicit dislike of hard decisions during his first years of foreign policy, decisions that have no middle and need to be called out on the spot.

Gaddafi needed to go before the revolution erupted.

So why wait until now? The White House’s second excuse for delaying its call for Gaddafi’s exit illuminates its thinking. Criticized for a soft response to the most violent suppression thus far, U.S. officials said the safety of US citizens in Libya “tempered” Washington's reaction. Which weighs U.S. citizens’ lives above Libyans. Though meaning well in America, this excuse shows a complete lack of sensitivity to Libyans' own lives. Sympathy is as scarce as water in the desert. Too many people have, for too long, sacrificed their well being to preserve favorable conditions for the West.

And Obama can’t be accused of any deception here.

“First, we are doing everything we can to protect American citizens,” he opened his February 23rd address. “That is my highest priority. In Libya, we've urged our people to leave the country and the State Department is assisting those in need of support. Meanwhile, I think all Americans should give thanks to the heroic work that's being done by our foreign service officers and the men and women serving in our embassies and consulates around the world. They represent the very best of our country and its values.”

It says something in itself when Obama uses Libya’s plight to sneak in a Raymond Davis reference. Too many unmentionables buried beneath “democracy” and “values” - this remains America’s problem in the Muslim world.

The possibility cannot be discounted that Gaddafi would threaten U.S. citizens and personnel had Obama issued an earlier call for his removal. However “Colonel Crazy” lost his mind before February 23rd, leaving Libyans to pay the real price of this risk. Whether Egyptian servitude for Israel, Saudi Arabian oil, Bahrain’s 5th Fleet, Yemen’s al-Qaeda threat, or citizens in Libya, U.S. interests continue to rank first in priority. This trend most accurately expresses Washington’s consistency.

Worse still, Obama speaks in a manner of ignoring all negative perceptions towards U.S. policy, an unflattering ignorance that comes off as delusional.

Neither Egyptians nor Libyans believe America’s response is consistent or based on its values. On the contrary, the international media and observers are largely united in the hypocrisy of Washington’s past and present policies. Obama has issued no comment on Yemen despite over a month of protesting and state-controlled violence. In America’s own streets, solidarity marches beg Obama to change his position to the side of all protesters, foreign and domestic. And in Libya, protesters grew furious with his February 23rd speech after failing to mention sanctions or even Gaddafi’s name.

“Listen to the words of a representative protester speaking to Anderson Cooper after President Obama finally did break his silence on Libya,” William Bennett wrote in an article asking “Where is Obama as the Middle East boils?”
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: "The Libyan public are angry from the statement was given by President Obama today. Everybody was disappointed.

COOPER: You feel he didn't go for enough?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No... It's nonsense. I thought that he's going to give even threats or warning for this to stop. I expected more, to be honest. I expected to read between the lines from his speech. I did not see that. I was very disappointed, not me alone. Everybody was disappointed. We want America to support us.”
Luckily for Obama, protesters across the world cannot afford to refuse U.S. and Western assistance during their historic struggle for democracy. And Muslims still want to believe in the hope Obama promised at Cairo. Except he’s giving them no reason to. If he keeps bleeding in Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan - the list goes on - Obama might find himself completely tapped out of the optimism he initially rekindled in the Middle East.

And once he goes, Muslims won’t have anyone they can trust in Washington.

1 comment:

  1. Lieberman, Mc Cain, etc, are on the circuit screaming about sending troops into Libya.

    I for one have been very leery about all of this.
    I fear they will send troops or have some other involvement.

    They just can not help themselves.

    Which topple do the Saudi's fear more
    Libya or Bahrain?