Saturday, March 26, 2011

Obama and Libya

President Obama is catching flack from both the left and the right for his aggressive support of Libyan rebels. This can only mean that he is doing the right thing. Cynics are questioning whether or not the President has averted a humanitarian disaster in Benghazi. Can anyone doubt that Gadhafi's mercenaries would have begun a bloodbath in that city if the rebels were forced to flee? Bob Herbert of New York Times (in his last column for the paper) asked how the U.S. could justify spending so much money for a war in Libya when hundreds of thousands of Americans were out of work. Michael Kinsley, writing in LA Times, could see no justification for U.S. intervention in Libya.

The answer is best summarized by a Libyan rebel: "The Americans and the British and the French have come to us in our hour of need," he said. "We now know who our friends are." This political capital will alone justify the U.S. stand when history is written about Libya's democratic transformation and the benefits that flowed from it for the world in general and the Middle East in particular.

Those questioning Obama's decision are guilty of shortsightedness. They cannot see the forest for the trees. If blood flowed freely in Benghazi, the Arab Spring could have degenerated into the Arab winter of despair. In the long term, this would have been a catastrophic lost opportunity for the U.S and the world. Hope for a transformation in the region would have vanished like a mirage.

As it is, the rebels are now forcing the mercenaries to retreat from Benghazi. A prolonged civil war may yet ensue, and there maybe a period of violent upheavals. But after 42 years of Gadhafi's cruel despotism, it can take a few months for Libyans to shrug off their tribal differences to forge a new era of transparency and liberty.

Obama's clarity on Libya did not arrive on the wings of inspiration and insight. It came about from the persuasive case that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, a national security aide haunted by the massacre of Bosnian Muslims, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made for U.S. intervention.
The President often comes across as prudent to the point of indifference. His daring seems to be confined to his rhetoric. When it is time for action, he vacillates or takes far too long to make up his mind.

But Obama is also what one would call lucky. In the end, and just in the nick of time too, he does the right thing. It has a lot to do with the kind of people he listens to and the advice he seeks. Luck has a symbiotic relationship with humility. These are Obama's intangible qualities. They can be far more useful for a president than bravado and "The Buck Stops Here" mentality.

A victory for the rebels in Libya is now a distinct possibility, thanks to the support that the U.S., the British and the French are providing. While war rages in Libya, Syrians, Yemenis and Jordanians are also dying as they take to the streets against their respective dictatorial governments. But there is no stopping the revolution. After decades of despair and fatalism, Arabs have been stirred by hope. They are now heir to Patrick Henry whose famous cry during the U.S. War of Independence in 1775 resonate in the 21st century: "Give Me liberty or Give Me Death."

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