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Right Turn
Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 03/10/2011

The Shrinking superpower

The Post’s Scott Wilson provides this analysis of Obama’s handling -- or non-handling -- of the Libyan revolution:

President Obama is content to let other nations publicly lead the search for solutions to the Libyan conflict, his advisers say, a stance that reflects the more humble tone he has sought to bring to U.S. foreign policy but one that also opens him to criticism that he is a weak leader . . . .

Although Obama sees advantages in keeping Washington in the background, especially in a region where the United States is held in such low regard, he has exposed himself to Republican charges that he is absent at a time of crisis. Conservatives say his one-of-the-team approach could also signal a decline in American fortitude after nearly a decade of war.

Well, if we are in such low regard, hasn’t Obama failed in his “Muslim outreach”? Maybe the problem wasn’t simply George W. Bush.

However, Scott’s underlying analysis is a reminder that Obama, contrary to many conservatives’ criticism, may not be paralyzed. Rather, he is intentionally downsizing America’s superpower status. The Obama team has rationalized it this way:

“This is the Obama conception of the U.S. role in the world -- to work through multilateral organizations and bilateral relationships to make sure that the steps we are taking are amplified,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. “Maybe this is a different conception of U.S. leadership. But we believe leadership should galvanize an international response, not rely on a unilateral U.S. response.”

But international bodies are slow and often unwilling to act. We don’t share a worldview with Russia and China. By deferring to other nations and refusing to lead, Obama is in effect giving recalcitrant allies and aggressive competitors a veto. Russia doesn’t want a no fly-zone? Oh, well, guess that’s off the table.

Very bad things happen when America stands on the sidelines, as Scott reminds us:

Bill Clinton was criticized for standing by during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and waiting for years to use force in the Balkans. He finally did so in Kosovo without a U.N. Security Council resolution, a case that is being examined by European countries and the Obama administration as they decide how to proceed in Libya.

We have gotten to the point where conservatives and liberals are united in their wariness of Obama’s lack of initiative. Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, is no neocon. But he sounds much like Elliott Abrams on this point:

“Having called on Gaddafi to leave, I think it would be hard for the administration to back away from the crisis if that goal remains unmet,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who said doing so would risk sending a message to other autocrats that they can use violence to maintain power. . . .

Abrams said: “I think they are being too timid here. And they are running the risk that there will be a bloodbath tomorrow and, by then, it will be too late for them to help the opposition.”

When we get to the point where Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is to the right of the administration (advocating a no-fly zone) you know how extreme the administration’s preference for American invisibility has become.

The administration’s response to its bipartisan critics? “It’s not as if we’re not on the side of change,” Scott quoted an administration official as saying. Not exactly a stirring message, is it?

What makes this all the more appalling is that we have had the 9/11 experience. Doing nothing when provoked and playing defense gave us 3,000 dead Americans. Unless we are on offense, our allies will be inclined to do very little and our enemies will run rampant. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what is going on now.

By  |  03:48 PM ET, 03/10/2011

 
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