Sunday, Jul 21, 2024

Obama’s Leadership Gap

Once again in the case of Libya, the United States has been disappointed and embarrassed by the timid, tardy and inadequate response of President Barack Obama to a situation in which the US was called upon to seize the initiative and act as the leader of the free world. The world watched in growing horror at the monstrous reaction of Moammar Gaddafi to the revolt of the Libyan people to his despotic rule. Yet, the US was again last to react to the human rights atrocity unfolding in front of the world's eyes. The White House appeared to be deaf to the anguished cries for help from the Libyan people being gunned down in the streets by mercenaries in the pay of the man whom Ronald Reagan condemned 30 years ago as “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Obama's foreign policy was frozen, like a “deer-in-the-headlights” for ten days. There were a thousands lying dead in the streets of Libya, before President Obama began to play catch up in reacting to the atrocities unfolding daily before the world's eyes. Great Britain and Germany did not hesitate to use their special forces to conduct a covert military operation to rescue their citizens from Libya at the earliest possible opportunity. But the United States was content to allow 200 of its citizens to remain in harm's way in Libya when it took no as an answer when it asked the Libyan government for permission to send a rescue flight. Those Americans remained in Libya as virtual hostage for two days waiting for high seas to subside so that a ferry boat the US had chartered could safely bring them from Tripoli to Malta. The obvious question is, why didn't Obama simply send in some helicopters from the US Navy's Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, or US bases in Europe to evacuate the Americans stranded in Libya immediately, the way that Great Britain and Germany did?

Even worse, the White House attempted to use its failure to get US citizens out of harm’s way in Libya as an excuse for its failure to condemn Gaddafi directly and by name for his atrocities, or to lend direct and open support to the Libyan people attempting to rid themselves of his rule.


Furthermore, this is not the first time that Obama has failed a crucial test of US leadership in advancing the cause of democracy and human rights as an American president. The first time came in June, 2009, when he failed to speak out in support of the pro-democracy demonstrators who protested the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. That turned out to be a major missed opportunity to destabilize the Iranian regime and neutralize one of the major threats to Israel, nuclear weapons proliferation and peace in the region. US silence allowed the Iranian regime to suppress the pro-democracy movement by force. Obama’s failure to take any action on their behalf betrayed the hopes of the Iranian people that the US would support their fight for freedom, and has likely discouraged them from making any similar attempts in the near future.




Obama was again far too slow to lend US support to the pro-democracy demonstrators who brought down the pro-Western dictatorship in Tunisia in January, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February. While the White House claimed that it was working behind the scenes to discourage the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators from using force to maintain themselves in power, US allies in Europe were willing to speak out to condemn them and in support of the demonstrators, without provoking the negative consequences the White House said it feared. This gave the protesters and the rest of the world the clear impression that the US alone was giving its tacit approval to the two dictators to hang onto power for as long as possible.


There could be no such excuse given for the strange failure of the White House to act in the case of Libya. The US had only minimal diplomatic ties with Gaddafi’s regime, which was, until recently, an open enemy and a major state supporter of international terrorism. White House claims of US helplessness to intervene militarily in Libya are also belied by the fact that the US currently has 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan and 50,000 more in Iraq, plus the approximately 80,000 US troops stationed permanently in Europe, including 10,000 in Italy, just across the Mediterranean from Libya.




President Obama’ reluctance to speak out in support of emerging pro-democracy movements around the world stands in sharp contrast to his eagerness to apologize for legitimate US actions taken in self defense in the past. Most notable among these was his June 4, 2009 speech delivered at Cairo University in which he admitted US guilt for reacting to the 9/11 attacks by waging war on Islamic terrorism, while paying scant lip service to the goal of promoting democracy in the Muslim world.


It is painfully clear that Obama lacks sufficient pride and confidence in America’s greatness to project its inherent moral strength in moments of crisis abroad. He seems too unsure of the right of the US to be the leader of the free world to play that role effectively. Instead, he seems much more comfortable in the role of critic of American policies and values rather than as its chief defender and champion. Obama lacks sufficient pride and faith in America’s role as the great liberator and example of the benefits of democracy, and the “shining city upon the hill,” that Ronald Reagan saw when he looked at the country he led.




Once again, Obama has given a pass to monsters like Gaddafi, while coming down hard on friends and allies like Israel, the only true democracy and reliable US ally in the region. He is too quick to find fault with America’s friends, and far too slow to condemn the misdeeds of the enemies of human rights and freedoms around the world.


His policies toward Israel are another example of how easily Obama gets sidetracked, mistaking peripheral issues for vital US interests. By fixating on the fictitious West Bank settlement construction problem, Obama sabotaged any chance to revive meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.


Similarly, by waiting too long to demand that first Mubarak and now Gaddafi must give up power, Obama forfeited the opportunity to show the oppressed people of Egypt and Libya that the US is the champion of democracy and the defender of human rights. Instead, Obama’s late and halfhearted responses made the US look more like part of the problem than the solution.




As a result, America’s enemies around the world have learned to feel free, since Obama took office, to work openly in defiance of the national interests and policies of the US, without having to fear the consequences. They have also learned that the Obama White House is so obsessed with seeking forgiveness for the imagined faults of US policies that it prefers to appease or simply to ignore the most blatant human rights abuses of other regimes such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea.


The eloquent Obama is suddenly mute when confronted by atrocities committed by monsters like Gadaffi on the world stage. He has abdicated the traditional American role of leading the initial public condemnation to such secondary Western leaders as Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain. In the case of Libya, Obama also forfeited the initiative in responding to urgent pleas for humanitarian assistance from the rebels to lesser Western powers like France.




It does seem odd. Barack Obama was eager to publicly attack the duly elected governors of Arizona and Wisconsin for carrying out the mandates of the voters in their states on such issues as the enforcement of immigration laws and limiting the power of public employee unions. Yet he was unwilling to criticize the brutal dictators of Iran and Libya when they used force to brutally suppress free speech in their countries and grossly violated the human rights of their citizens.


Perhaps it is too bad that Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gaddafi were not Republicans. Then Obama might have felt freer to speak out publicly against them.




Obama’s shocking reluctance to promote American values abroad is consistent with his refusal to carry out his clear constitutional mandate to enforce and defend the laws of the land. While refusing to come to the aid of the emerging groundswell of democracy in the Middle East, at home the Obama administration was announcing its refusal to defend the law of the land, in the form of the Defense of Marriage act, which has been in force since 1996, against constitutional challenges.


Obama’s proposed 2012 budget is equally cynical. Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, in testimony before Congress, said the projected budget deficits in the budget over the next decade are “unsustainable.” In other words, Obama submitted a budget, knowing that if allowed to stand, it would undermine the long term viability of the US economy.


Obama has abdicated his duties as president to govern responsibility at home, uphold the basic principles of American democracy abroad, and to defend the rule of law.


This is a sad commentary on a presidency that began by promising to “never let a crisis go to waste.” Instead, it has been afraid to step up and meet its basic responsibilities to the American people.




Barack Obama has been a bitter disappointment, perhaps even more to his liberal and independent supporters than to his conservative opponents. It is, nonetheless, surprising that a president who was so effective on the campaign trail just three years ago in rekindling national pride and hope in recalling basic American values has been so reluctant to promote them when given unique and historic opportunities to do so.


Barack Obama has failed crucial tests of presidential leadership so many times since taking office that it is no longer possible even for his most ardent supporters to defend his record without simultaneous admissions of embarrassment and regret.


Obama’s credibility gap, which can be defined as the gulf between his rhetoric and his performance, which was first openly discussed by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert more than a year ago, has become even wider since that time. His rhetorical zig-zags on both domestic and international issues have repeatedly disappointed those from both parties who have looked to him to at least fulfill his basic responsibilities as president to lead the country through times of crisis.


A number of prominent Republican leaders who have made no secret of their deep disagreements with Obama on domestic policies, have signaled their willingness to support his foreign policy in pursuit of this country’s essential national interests. They have proven their sincerity through their support for his policies in Afghanistan. They cite an old American tradition which holds that partisan politics should end at the water’s edge, which means that the president deserves bipartisan support when it comes to international policy.


Obama has consistently failed to take up that offer, even though doing so would promote American democratic values around the world, and help to restore his badly tarnished popularity among many former supporters who have become disillusioned with his leadership.




Obama’s refusal to recognize the historic opportunities now presenting themselves is both puzzling and distressing. This is a once in a lifetime moment in the development of many nations. They need the US to show them the way forward to achieve all the benefits of a stable democracy, tailored to the individual culture, history and needs of each country.


Furthermore, the US has the mechanism and expertise in place to help these countries to achieve that goal. More than a quarter century ago, President Ronald Reagan created the National Endowment for Democracy. It provides funds to four non-governmental organizations that promote democracy abroad: the politically affiliated National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, the union-affiliated American Center for International Labor Solidarity and the business-oriented Center for International Private Enterprise. They could serve as a latter-day Peace Corps to help countries like Tunisia, Egypt and ultimately Libya achieve the democratic goals of their revolutions, yet the Obama administration has yet to make any serious attempt to offer such assistance or leadership.


It would still not be easy. Democratic nation-building remains a most difficult task, but it is a challenge which many Americans, from both political parties, believe is America’s ultimate mission in the world. It is also one which could reunite this country far more effectively than any domestic political initiative.


Obama’s inexplicable failure to recognize and seize the opportunity to lead the pro-democracy wave now sweeping the globe is, by far, his most disappointing failure as president. As such, he is fast becoming an embarrassment to the American heritage itself.




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