Everyone seems to have a different theory about why President Obama attacked Libya when he did and what his ultimate purpose is, because he has been so adamantly against similar uses of military force and reluctant even to voice his support for some democratic movements. I don’t think it’s that mysterious.
Commentators have been mystified by Obama’s vacillation, his indecisiveness and his apparent apathy about foreign policy. I do think that Obama far prefers domestic policy to foreign policy and that he wants to focus most of his attention on redistributing wealth, administering “economic justice” and otherwise fundamentally changing America. But we should understand that fundamentally transforming America has an essential foreign policy component, as well.
I concede that he probably hadn’t given much thought to how he would pursue his foreign policy beyond broad general strokes of negotiating with our enemies and “restoring America’s image abroad.”
It probably didn’t occur to him that he would actually find himself ordering a military attack on another nation, especially a Middle Eastern nation. But I think that when the Libyan situation was unfolding, it occurred to Obama that this was his opportunity to put his foreign policy philosophy into action — beyond the speeches he had given. I think his excursion into Libya can best be understood in the context of his views about America and wanting to recast it in his image.
The entire Democratic establishment carped at President George W. Bush’s allegedly unilateral, arrogant and abusive policies, which supposedly damaged our international image. They said his policies — invading Iraq for oil, “torture” at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, rendition, military tribunals, etc. — served as the best possible recruitment tool for Islamic terrorists.
But while many Democrats leveled those charges disingenuously for crass partisan gain, Obama was a true believer from the get-go. He even caught flak from Hillary Clinton during the campaign for his willingness to negotiate with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions.
Whether or not you believe anti-colonialism is the driver, Obama’s animating foreign policy passion is that America has been an international bully that needs to be brought down to size. He couldn’t wait to confess America’s “arrogance” and “dismissiveness” to foreign nations on their soil. He gleefully told the Muslim world in his Cairo speech how wonderful and peaceful Islam is and how much it has contributed to America. He made clear that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism when he said it is no different from Greek or British exceptionalism.
Though he couldn’t have planned for the unforeseen events in Libya, when they happened, a light bulb eventually went off in his head, signaling that this was his moment to practice what he’d been preaching and to demonstrate how America has changed under his leadership.
His primary goals are neither to oust Gadhafi nor to rescue the Libyan rebels for humanitarian reasons, for if ousting an evil dictator or protecting his victims were the motivation, he would have intervened in any number of other places. His apparent vacillation and indecisiveness must be viewed in the context of his overarching goal: to change America’s approach from “unilateralism,” which it never was, to radical, deferential multilateralism replete with ceding our sovereign decisions to international bodies — and to change our image.
Obama was not even slightly equivocal about deferring to international bodies for decisions on prosecuting this “kinetic military operation.” This would be his showcase to prove to the world that he fully intends to remake ugly America into a place that he and his wife will no longer be ashamed of.
The tragic irony of Obama’s approach is that it is so wrongheaded and counterproductive. Groveling to Hugo Chavez didn’t make him like us or even Obama. Chavez smelled “sulfur” in Obama’s presence, too. Nor did Obama’s pandering to the Iranian mullahs earn him anything other than their contempt. Indeed, his “approval” ratings in the entire Muslim world are as wretched as those of the dreaded George W. Bush.
Also, Obama has not been able to close Gitmo or reverse the other “evil” Bush terrorism policies. None of these obsequious gestures has borne positive fruit; they have just caused U.S. prestige to be diminished in the eyes of those whose friendship can’t be won but whose fear and respect are essential to our national security. Terrorist recruitment will continue apace, thank you. Everyone in the world knows, despite Obama’s obscene nod toward “multilateralism,” that America is still carrying the laboring oar in the bombing sorties in Libya. We are sure to get all the blame and little of the credit.
But Obama will remain as clueless, impervious and intransigent about the ineffectiveness of his foreign policy as he is to the proven failures of his domestic ones, and he’ll learn no lesson from any of this. In his eyes, he is remaking America for the better — and that’s the only way he’s capable of seeing it.