Many critics have opined that if Hamlet had immediately followed the urging of his father’s ghost, Claudius would have been slain in the next scene and Hamlet would have been a one-act play.
When it comes to foreign policy, Obama is our age’s Hamlet. Gadhafi is tottering, and both his own people and everyone outside the Axis of Assholes (Iran, Venezuela, etc.) wants to see him gone, but Obama is so hostile to using military power that he refuses to even broach the topic. Instead, he’s issued sanctions. Yeah, sanctions. I’m sure the guy who’s bombing his own people is quaking with fear at the very prospect.
Says William Kristol:
The dithering of the Obama administration has raised a more fundamental question: Have our elites — and not just those running the Obama administration — become so encumbered by self-doubt, so weakened by sophistication, so seduced by the excuses provided by the claim of helplessness, that they are incapable of acting decisively? Once Americans tried to seize every moment of opportunity. Now we are far more likely to stand back and watch history unfold, while explaining why we can’t do anything to shape that history. After all, our foreign policy establishment explains condescendingly, the challenges are daunting. So many forces are beyond our control. The risks are great. The obstacles are overwhelming.
There is another word for this widespread attitude of passive self-doubt. That word is decadence.
Last week’s farcical ferry, bobbing aimlessly in the waters off Tripoli, was an image for our government’s embrace of helplessness, for its acceptance of decline. It recalled the downed helicopters in Iran in early 1980, emblems of the failed Carter administration. But at least President Carter sent helicopters. In so doing he overruled his secretary of state, who wished to do nothing. So far, this president is performing in this crisis at a sub-Jimmy Carter level of assertiveness and command.
It’s one thing when the editor of The Weekly Standard calls you a wuss, but it’s quite another when you’re too timid for even The New Republic:
Is a no-fly zone really too complicated to negotiate? Then let NATO planes fly over Tripoli to shoot down any Libyan aircraft that make war on the Libyan population. Is the United States really prevented by its past from deploying the small number of troops that would be required to rescue Tripoli from Qaddafi’s bloody grip? Then let a multilateral expeditionary force be raised and a humanitarian intervention be launched to free Libya from its tyrant and then leave Libya to the Libyans. Europeans, Africans, even Egyptians may join the campaign. And impose sanctions; and freeze assets; and summon The Hague. There is no lack of proposals for acting against this monster out of Tacitus. But the president is not yet interested in action. His outrage seems to be satisfied by “consultations” with our “allies and partners,” and with the Human Rights Council in Geneva next Monday. Yes, next Monday: what’s the rush? The main point of Obama’s statement on Libya was that “the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice,” and that “we join with the international community to speak with one voice.” He is calling for words! He actually said that “the whole world is watching,” that foul old slogan of the bystander.
Why is Obama so disinclined to use the power at his disposal? His diffidence about humanitarian emergencies is one of the most mystifying features of his presidency, and one of its salient characteristics. These crises—in Tehran two years ago, in Cairo last month, in Tripoli now—produce in him a lame sort of lawyerliness. He lists the relevant rights and principles and then turns to procedural questions, like those consultations. The official alibi for Obama’s patience with Qaddafi’s atrocity is his concern for the Americans who are still stranded within Qaddafi’s reach; I was amused to learn from a friend that the spin out of the White House includes the suggestion that Obama’s restraint is actually the wisdom of the hostage negotiator. But Obama’s statement about Libya suggests another explanation for his slow pace. This was its climax: “So let me be clear. The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region. This change doesn’t represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life.”
They are fighting authoritarianism, but he is fighting imperialism. Who in their right mind believes that this change does represent the work of the United States or any foreign power? To be sure, there are conspiracy theorists in the region who are not in their right mind, and will hold such an anti-American view; but this anti-Americanism is not an empirical matter. They will hate us whatever we do. I do not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of American intervention. I see an American president with a paralyzing fear that it will. In those Middle Eastern streets and squares that have endured the pangs of democratization, the complaint has been not that the United States has intervened, but that the United States has not intervened. The awful irony is that Obama is more haunted by the history of American foreign policy in the Middle East than are many people in the Middle East, who look to him for support in their genuinely epochal struggle against the social death in which their tyrannies have imprisoned them.
When both the President of France and the UN commissioner on Human Rights have more aggressive postures on establishing a no-fly zone than the Obama Administration, we have a problem. Who knew that “smart diplomacy” would be a code-word for “We’re never actually going to us force ever again, even when our allies want us to”?
Obama could have gotten the credit from providing the final shove that knocked Gadhafi into the dustbin of history; instead, Obama’s dithering may ensure the continuance of Gadhafi’s repulsive reign, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
(PS: I found this image of Obama as Hamlet out on the Internet, but since it was on a lefty blog, I thought it unfair to embed it…)