Despite President Obama’s claims to leadership in Libya, it’s plain from the record that if not for Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and a few others, Obama would still be dithering. His speech on Monday night pleased those anxious for some sign that the president recognizes our global responsibilities, but as in Afghanistan it’s always about “getting out” for this president. We will meet our obligations if... it doesn’t cost too much (or last too long, or annoy the Arab League, or distress some domestic constituency, etc.).
That said, politics, whether domestic or on the world stage, abhors a vacuum. In the absence of leadership from the American president others will step forward. It might be a menacing foe (such as Iran) or, if we are lucky, it could be more able American leaders who understand leadership is not just what you say, but what you do.
Yesterday, a freshman senator decided to un-muddle American policy on Libya. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the Senate minority and majority leaders spelling out a clear and unequivocal message on Libya:
I am writing to seek your support for bringing a bi-partisan resolution to the Senate floor authorizing the President’s decision to participate in allied military action in Libya.
Furthermore, this resolution should also state that removing Muammar Qaddafi from power is in our national interest and therefore should authorize the President to accomplish this goal. To that end, the resolution should urge the President to immediately recognize the Interim Transitional National Council as the legitimate government in Libya.
For more than four decades, Qaddafi has terrorized the Libyan people, sowed instability among its neighbors, plotted assassination attempts against heads of state and supported terrorist enterprises such as the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 innocent people — including 189 Americans.
Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, Libyans have rebelled against Qaddafi’s brutal regime, demanding democratic reforms, transparent governance, and respect for basic human and civil rights. In response to these legitimate demands for a better future, Qaddafi has unleashed foreign mercenaries and used weapons of war against unarmed civilians.
As long as Qaddafi remains in power, he will be in a position to terrorize his own people and potentially the rest of the world. In fact he has vowed to turn rebel strongholds into “rivers of blood.” If he succeeds, it will provide a blueprint to repressive regimes across the Middle East in the use of force against unarmed civilians. And unlike the conflicts in other nations in the region, the rebels in Libya have requested and welcome our support.
Obama’s goals — a Gaddafi-free Libya — don’t match his means; Rubio has no such problem. Rubio voices some of the same sentiments that Obama did on Monday : “At the end of the day, the fact remains that our nation is not like other countries. The United States is an exceptional country with exceptional powers. But that power comes with unique moral obligations and responsibilities. The world is a better place when America is willing to lead. And American leadership is required now more than ever.” The difference is that Rubio doesn’t obscure that with a faux “handoff” or revisionist history or obsessive attachment to multilateral “partners” who aren’t really willing to stand up for the same ends.
Next week, I will predict exactly the same thing will happen on the budget. Obama talked a good game (sort of) in the State of the Union address about fiscal sobriety. But his budget is devoid of serious measures to steer us back from the brink of fiscal doom. Obama won’t lead? Fine. Then over to you, Rep. Paul Ryan (R- Wis.). The House budget chairman will move to fill the vacuum next week as he rolls out the 2012 budget.
It might just be that the Ryan-Rubio duo proves to be the boldest, most influential twosome in Washington. In the absence of a serious president, maybe these two can restore America’s economic health and international credibility. And if so, the Republican electorate might want to think about drafting them for bigger jobs in 2012.