This morning I almost choked on my coffee when I read this JTA headline: “Clinton: U.S. Not Ready to Intervene in Syria.”
Seriously, is there anybody out there suggesting a U.S.-led no-fly zone over Syria to stop Bashar Assad from killing the protesters who are sick of his family's autocratic rule, or maybe U.S. ground troops?
Sure, we'll do it, right after we're finished getting rid of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi,when we've dropped a few bombs and ended Iran's nuclear program and maybe after we've won the war in Afghanistan, pacified Pakistan and won the gratitude of civilians in both countries. (For a particularly graphic report on why that's never going to happen, check out the chilling expose headlined How a 'Kill Team' of U.S. Soldiers Killed Afghan Civilians for Sport in Rolling Stone. President George W. Bush started this unholy mess of a war, but it belongs to Barack Obama now – all of it, including these grisly abuses)
Tonight President Obama will presumably explain the rationale for our involvement in Libya in a major policy address. I'm hoping he will be able to offer a convincing explanation for why we have chosen to get involved in yet another military conflict and exacty what the exit strategy will be, and why we chose to use military force to protect civilians in Libya but not in the countless othercountries with brutal, repressive governments and populations longing to be free. I'm hoping to hear something that tells me he has a well-though-out, comprehensive plan for dealing with the seismic changes rumbling through the Arab and Muslim worlds.
But I'm not real optimistic.
In the face of tectonic forces reshaping the landscape of the Middle East, it seems to me this administration lacks any sense of direction. Instead, it's all patchwork policy, reacting to each situation as if it was happening in a vacuum instead of part of a complex, sweeping current of change that needs to be understood as a whole.
We rain cruise missiles down on Libya without knowing much about the rebels we're supporting; we seem indifferent about Syria, with its own appalling human rights record; and I haven't seen any evidence we've figured out a strategy to deal with the possibility the Muslim Brotherhood will make major gains in Egypt.
And let's not forget that on the Israelis-Palestinian front, this administration has moved in fits and starts, and seems as far today from a coherent, realistic strategy as it was on inauguration day.
I'm not suggesting this administration is worse than its predecessors, or that there are easy answers.
But at least from what is visible in public, the evidence suggests President Obama and his foreign policy team are ad libbing their way through crisis after crisis, and doing so without any semblance of consistency. And it seems to me that much of this policy improvisation, including the deepening Afghanistan crisis and the brand-new confrontation with Libya, is driven by this president's fierce need not to appear weak.
Maybe we'll hear something new and reassuring tonight. But I'm not counting on it.
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