Friday, March 18, 2011

Europe Baffled - Foreign Policy Magazine

The President has joked about it twice now - at the annual big media Gridiron dinner  (Gridiron dinner - Washington Post), and in response to a shouted question, which he almost always ignores.  His Secretary of State has been so forcefully pushing the President to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, that it has lead to the President joking about the Secretary's  persistent advocacy, even as the President and his inner circle thought about the matter and what to do.  Ultimately, after thirty-one days of crisis, the US agreed to a French proposal for a no-fly zone.  Rebels had taken much of the country until the President made his statement last week that he wanted Gad gone but then made no mention and took no action to assist the people trying to make that happen.  Even in the face of an unprecedented agreement with military action of any sort by the Arab League, the White House pondered.  And Uganda was unleashed, using air strikes and artillery to escalate his attacks.  He began to kill indiscriminately - rebels, innocents, women, children and elderly people were killed if they were in the line of his advance.

A Hug for Gaddafi when the President met him gave many diplomatic and intelligence sources a very worrisome sign to the world. 

European diplomats meeting with Secretary of State Clinton pressed her to clarify US policy on Libya, but the best she could do - and I am not being sarcastic - was to say 'There are difficulties'.  The problem is that the President eschewed any leadership role in achieving his stated  goal - getting Uganda out - while the dictator and his sons killed and bombed both rebel forces and civilians.  The man even used the word "cleansing", a word with such evil context in political and diplomatic circles that it probably served as the catalyst that has lead to the "no-fly zone', which will initially be made up of British, French and Canadian fighter aircraft.

I'm not being partisan here.  A lot of former Clinton and Bush advisors and commentators began to be concerned when the White House gave the world such mixed signals that the protestor group snubbed Secretary Clinton when she visited.  People began to fear that with the US on the sidelines, and indicating that the White House was uncertain and ill-informed about the nature of the events unfolding in Egypt would create a frightening impression in an exploding Arab world:  Mubarak did not order the army to fire upon the people and he was driven out of power; Uganda was killing rebels and civilians with no distinction, and it looked (and maybe still looks) like he would hang on to power.

Secretary Clinton has the experience of having been in the White House for eight years, and by virtue of being the First Lady AND an important advisor to President Clinton.  I think her answers to Wolfe Blitzer earlier this week give a good indication of how difficult it really is to implement, or even explain the President's policy in crisis situations.  When asked if she would continue as Secretary of State, should the President win re-election, Mrs. Clinton said, "No."  When asked if she might serve in a different post in a second Obama administration, her answer was that same simple "No."  She repeated the answer twice more and did not elucidate her meaning.

Foreign Policy Magazine - What does the US want in Libya?

I have been reading Brit newspapers a lot, and there are a lot of articles and opinion pieces about the perception that the President doesn't seem to want to engage on any issues except getting re-elected.  From the right-leaning Daily Express: Barrack-Obama-The-Weakest-President-in-history?  And even the sturdily left-leaning Guardian quotes a former staff member from the Reagan and George HW Bush White Houses and ends the piece saying that while the reasons are a bit more complicated than the presumably right-leaning blog writer has expressed them, but "I would like disagree with this post more than I do".  It seems to me that the President is increasingly being seen overseas as weak, unwilling or unable to engage, with a staff that can't set or maintain an agenda.  It seems that,  as one Guardian article put it, he has lost his Mojo.  He is in a tough spot, I think, because his liberal base is growing angry because he has been less "Yes we can!" seems to have become "Oops, can't do that (Guantanamo, tribunals)" and "Maybe we can do that later..."

And the worst thing of all:  I saw dozens of similar references in the press, such as: "Those fabled Chicago enforcers around the president turned out to be feckless Chihuahuas, didn't they?"; but the kicker is a number of references to Obama's Illinois State Senator days and the 130 times he voted "Present" to avoid taking a stand on tough issues.  Or maybe I should have said that the comparisons to Carter were the most troubling.  In any event, it is clear to me that in many European Capitols the President is coming to be seen as ineffective, non-committal and impossible to rely upon.

With his re-election campaign already in motion, a House controlled by the opposition, unpopular stimulus bills, a punted budget that does not address the astounding level of US debt...I think they're going to need a really good new campaign slogan.  Something like "Yes we Can!" but not that one, which has become a bit of an op-ed page one-liner.  I can't come up with one just now, all I can think up is  "Sure, we might"

I've always felt that winning the Presidency is really just a ticket to immediate gray hair, the most difficult on-the-job training in existence, and the built-in decline in job approval polls always shows up whether the President takes tough measures or chooses to sit back and simply see what the international community will drum up, and then maybe offer verbal support.

Newt Says Glad French Not Distracted by NCAA Tournament.  The former Speaker went on to refer to the President as the "Spectator in Chief".

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