Today, President Obama will be the first U.S. President to visit Burma. The unprecedented trip is a celebration for the second largest country in Southeast Asia. It’s also a remarkable achievement since Burma only recently held national elections in 2010 after holding the leader of the democratic opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for 21 years. Continue reading
One year ago this month, Vogue Magazine published a glowing profile piece of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma. Over the last year, Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour has defended her magazine’s portrayal of the Syrian First Lady despite the brutal crackdown in Syria by Asma’s husband’s regime that has killed more than 8,000 citizen protesters.
This week, President Barack Obama invited Wintour to the White House for the coveted State Dinner of America’s greatest ally – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The invite is yet another signal that Obama doesn’t understand how important Syria’s future is to U.S. national security.
Not only has Obama ignored the Syrian people’s cry for help, but he is honoring and rewarding the woman who celebrated the killer’s wife in the pages of a fashion magazine.
Vogue has since deleted the profile piece from its pages. But for a refresher, here are some controversial quotes from writer Joan Juliet Buck:
- “When I first arrive, I’m met on the tarmac by a minder, who gives me a bouquet of white roses and lends me a Syrian cell phone; the head minder, a high-profile American PR, joins us the next day. The first lady’s office has provided drivers, so I shop and see sights in a bubble of comfort and hospitality.” The high profile American PR firm working for the Syrian regime is the notorious firm of Brown Llyod James.
- “The old al-Assad family apartment was remade into a child-friendly triple-decker playroom loft surrounded by immense windows on three sides. With neither shades nor curtains, it’s a fishbowl. Asma al-Assad likes to say, “You’re safe because you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.” Neighbors peer in, drop by, visit, comment on the furniture. The president doesn’t mind: “This curiosity is good: They come to see you, they learn more about you. You don’t isolate yourself.”
- “Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says.”
- “I can’t talk about empowering young people, encouraging them to be creative and take responsibility, if I’m not like that with my own children.”
- “The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”
- “This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!”
Is what’s going on in Syria the kind of peace Wintour was thinking of? And more importantly, is this piece something that President Obama should honor by inviting its unapologetic editor to a White House State Dinner?
NOVEMBER 21, 2011
Obama’s Failing Iran Diplomacy
By RICHARD GRENELL
On Nov. 13, President Obama made some remarkable statements. “When I came into office,” he said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Honolulu, “the world was divided and Iran was unified around its nuclear program.” Now, he said, “the world is united and Iran is isolated. And because of our diplomacy and our efforts, we have, by far, the strongest sanctions on Iran that we’ve ever seen.” Mr. Obama added, “China and Russia were critical to making that happen. Had they not been willing to support those efforts in the United Nations, we would not be able to see the kind of progress that we’ve made.”
This was pure spin. The United Nations Security Council actually began instituting resolutions and sanctions in 2006, agreed to and voted on by all 15 members, that called upon Iran to stop enriching uranium.
In its nearly three years in office, the Obama administration has helped pass just one of those resolutions—in June 2009. Only 12 of the 15 members of the Security Council voted in favor of it. Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon did not.
The simple fact is that the world is less unified on Iran now than it was under President George W. Bush. True enough, Mr. Obama may hear fewer complaints about hard-charging U.S. foreign policies than his predecessor. But silence is not cooperation.
The Bush administration got five Security Council resolutions passed on Iran starting in 2006. Three were sanctions resolutions. The Security Council was unanimous on two of the votes and lost only one country’s support (Indonesia) in the third vote in 2008. In total, the Bush team lost the support of one country in its three sanctions resolutions while the Obama team lost the support of three countries in one resolution.
U.S. President Barack Obama at a press conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Kapolei, Hawaii.
Two views are emerging in response to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear weapons. While one camp believes the Iranians are close to obtaining nuclear weapons, the other side believes they haven’t mastered the technology and that time still remains to work out a diplomatic, non-military solution.
The Obama team falls in the second camp. It is calling for more diplomacy and more international pressure—as if U.S. diplomats haven’t tried to convince Iran or its neighbors that its pursuit of a nuclear weapon is not a good idea.
And that’s what’s so dangerous about the president’s spin. His administration professes that the world is unified in pressuring Iran, but what the international community is really unified about is doing nothing.
The pronouncements from the White House that unity from the international community is its priority are naïve and treacherous excuse-making. And if consensus is the mandate, then the Obama team has already failed that test with the divided-support for their only resolution. More importantly, the Russians and the Chinese, with their complaints about another round of sanctions, have scared off the Obama team from calling for a vote on another resolution.
Mr. Obama’s gamble that we have time before Iran gets a nuclear weapon is perilous. Those calling for more pressure on Russia and China to comply with current sanctions miss the reality of Iran’s pursuit and the weakness of the Obama team. If Russia and China can vote for multiple Iran sanctions resolutions but ignore them—and then resist subsequent demands to comply with previous resolutions or produce new ones—then giving them more time to realize the errors of their ways is foolish.
The strategy to increase pressure on Iran through international sanctions had a chance to work. But the president released that pressure and ignored the previous U.S. work to try his personal diplomacy. The Obama team has succeeded in stopping countries from grumbling about U.S. policy, but that’s only because they haven’t called for an Iran vote in almost 18 months.
Mr. Grenell was the director of communications and spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations from 2001-2008.
In 2008, candidate Obama made fun of the Bush Administration for not having many friends and not being able to lead the world. The facts show that Obama is less popular than Bush was at the end of his term. The difference is that the Bush team actually produced votes at the UN (the Bush team produced 5 resolutions on Iran, Obama has only managed to get 1) and was confronting dictators. Maybe you are more popular if you actually lead?
See poll results here: http://aai.3cdn.net/5d2b8344e3b3b7ef19_xkm6ba4r9.pdf
Below is the official White House Press Pool Report from President Obama’s Pride reception at the White House.
In it you will see that Dan Savage thinks supporting gay marriage is being “out on the furthest limb” for Obama so he isn’t furious with him for his position. Savage also predicts that Obama won’t ”evolve” on gay marriage until February, 2013 – after the next presidential election. You will also see that union spokesman Gregory King thinks gays aren’t prioritizing marriage so Obama doesn’t need to either. With supporters like these it’s no wonder Obama doesn’t feel pressure from the gay community.
From: Julie Mason
To: Finkenbinder, Benjamin N.
Cc: Hughes, Caroline E.
Sent: Wed Jun 29 18:43:29 2011
Subject: Pool Report #1 pride reception
No, he didn’t endorse gay marriage.
The East Room contained: a few hundred attendees, a full bar, a couple of small, round tables covered in shimmery purple cloth piled high with canapes and desserts: puff pastries, baby lamb chops, mini cupcakes, slices of cake and more. The centerpieces were oversized bouquets of roses in pink, orange, red and purple. A band played light jazz and R&B.
The crowd was mostly white and the men significantly outnumbered the women. Dan Savage was there — quotes from him after Obama.
Obama entered the room at 6 p.m. to huge cheers. Facing north, he assured the crowd that “Nothing ruins a party like a long speech from a politician” and promised to go short. He talked about his accomplishments so far — hospital visits, DADT, DOMA, etc.
He said he understands the frustration many in the gay community feel about the pace of accomplishments — “I know I can count on you to let me know,” he said. “This is not a shy group.”
The crowd interrupted him a few times with spontaneous cheers and applause — when he mentioned “spouses” (without endorsing the concept) and more. Check the transcript. He spoke for about nine minutes.
Dan Savage, a columnist, author and gay activist was there with his husband (they married in Canada), Terry Miller. Dan was wearing a black and white plaid shirt with a small button that said, “evolve already.” Terry wore a white shirt with a hot pink bow tie.
“I believe the president should evolve,” Savage said. “He says he’s evolving, I believe him.” He added, “I want to hurry him along.”
Savage, a strong proponent for gay marriage, said his presence at the White House should not be construed as a surrender on the issue. “We can scream and yell and be dicks and wear buttons” and still eat Obama’s cupcakes and drink his champagne, Savage said.
He predicted Obama’s evolution on gay marriage would be complete in February, 2013. Savage called Obama’s politics “the art of the possible.”
“We need to keep the pressure on and take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Savage said.
“I’m not one of the gay activists furious at the president because he’s not out on the furthest limb” on gay marriage, Savage said.
Also in the room and willing to make eye contact with the pool: Gregory King, a spokesman for AFSCME and a former spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign Fund.
King said, “I think Obama has done more for the LGBT community than any president in history.”
“He’s been effective at bringing change and ending discrimination,” King said.
Regarding gay marriage, “I know many couples who wouldn’t place that at the top of the agenda,” King said.
When the White House released the erroneous fact that President Obama would be the first President since John F. Kennedy to visit Puerto Rico, CNN, NPR and others accepted it as fact and began reporting it. Without checking the White House’s spin, many media organizations highlighted Obama’s visit and failed to find that the White House was wrong – President Gerald Ford had visited Puerto Rico in 1976 and was the last president to do so. While many outlets reported the error, CNN and NPR repeated it and failed to correct the mistake while highlighting the trip.
National Public Radio used the erroneous statistic to develop a stand-alone story, highlight its significance for Puerto Rican Americans and give President Obama accolades for his commitment to the island. NPR host Melissa Block introduced the piece titled, “Why is Obama Going to Puerto Rico”, by stressing “what Obama’s visit means to a growing Puerto Rican population — and his re-election efforts.” Block interviewed Frances Robles, correspondent with the Miami Herald, from Puerto Rico who also emphasized the historic visit. When Robles confronted the White House and NPR’s error at the top of her interview, Block failed to acknowledge it. Block never corrected
NPR’s error even when challenged. In subsequent news updates, NPR repeated the White House’s factual blunder despite online fact checkers highlighting it.
CNN also failed to investigate the White House’s claim and even ignored a plethora of online corrections from various reporters and fact-checkers who caught the White House spin early on. Shortly after the White House press release highlighting the President’s trip, bloggers found that not only had President Ford visited Puerto Rico in 1976, but President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the island in 1968. The White House had failed to notice.
And so did CNN. For 24 hours after the White House’s false claim, CNN failed to question it. CNN took Obama’s arrival in Puerto Rico live with the headline “Obama in Puerto Rico. First presidential visit since JFK 50 years ago”. Host Suzanne Malveaux hyped the trip with pronouncements like, “(Obama) fulfilled his promise to come back” and “There’s a lot of excitement about the trip” and “more than 4 million Puerto Ricans live on the mainland” and “This is an historic trip for Obama”. All pitches built around an error that CNN failed to check or correct. The mistake could have been chalked up to one big error if “the best political team on television” wasn’t so Johnny on the spot with fact-checking Palin, Boehner, Bush, Romney, Ryan, Gingrich, etc. For example, shortly after her Puerto Rico error, Malveaux interviewed Angie Holan
from The St. Petersburg Times in a segment titled “Checking The Truth-O-Meter” where the two questioned the accuracy of claims made by Republicans at the presidential debate in New Hampshire last night.
While it’s reasonable to conclude that a simple mistake was made by the White House in its initial announcement of Obama’s trip, it’s disturbing to see staffers not correct their error. It’s more troubling to see media outlets like NPR and CNN not only fail to fact-check, but ignore the truth when confronted with it. Both NPR and CNN should correct their mistake and come clean as to how it happened.
It doesn’t seem like a gutsy call to put sanctions on a head of state who has jailed protesters and shot peaceful demonstrators since early March. President Barack Obama’s overdue call to add Bashar al-Assad to a sanctions list restricting his travel outside of Syria is a slow start to one of the greatest U.S. foreign policy opportunities of our generation. And today’s Middle East Speech did nothing more to push Assad.
The end of Assad’s regime would be a blow to Iran and help isolate Ahmedinejad’s government in the region by removing its main ally and partner in crime. Isolating Iran, especially right now, could have profound consequences for Americans’ security, too, since the Iranian government announced it has mastered the technology needed to make a nuclear weapon. The Iranian leader also said that Israel should be wiped off the map.
But the Obama team either believes it can charm Assad into ending his relationship with Iran or doesn’t see the strategic importance of ending the Assad-Iran partnership. Obama’s engagement policy with Syria and his decision to send a U.S. Ambassador into Damascus normalized relations with a man Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “a reformer.” Assad responded to Obama’s overtures and acquiescence with more violence and terror and less reform. But Obama is unfazed. Syria has strengthened its ties with Iran and has continued to send and support terrorists into Iraq, Israel and Lebanon; And Obama can only muster enough outrage to say that Assad must stop using violence against his people.
Syria has allowed Iraqi Sunni insurgents to mobilize and plan attacks from its territory, has been accused by the United Nations of planning and assassinating Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and has supported Hezbollah and Hamas efforts to destabilize Israel and Lebanon. The reluctance by Obama and Clinton to act decisively on the Syrian government’s brutal actions against its people allows Syria to maintain its position as a legitimate member of the international community. Obama’s Middle East missteps have also encouraged neighbors like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to abandon his normally pro-western positions in favor of his comfortable relationship with Assad and Ahmedinejad.
Obama’s refusal to call for an end to the Assad regime is consistent with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s trip in 2007 to Damascus to meet with the Syrian President despite pleas from the Bush Administration to not legitimize the dictator and Vice President Joe Biden’s refusal to call for Egypt’s Hosni Mubarrak to step down or characterize him as a dictator.
The recent evidence of brutality by Assad’s government is undeniable. More than 10,000 people have been arrested, 800 protesters killed and 120 government security forces killed since the protests began. Opposition forces are calling for an end to President Assad’s regime and an expansion of economic and civil liberties; a goal Obama should wholeheartedly support.
An April 4th crack-down by government forces was caught on tape and posted on YouTube showing Syrian protesters shot outside a mosque and lying in the street – some dying on camera:
(Warning: This video is very graphic)
Images like these have rallied hundreds of thousands of people throughout Syria to continue fighting for their rights. These compelling stories have also prompted
human rights activists to call for more direct action from the White House.
For an Administration that criticized the international community’s slow response to Darfur and committed to utilize the United Nations more, little has been done to rally the world to support an obvious U.S. priority. Obama and his Ambassador to
the UN Susan Rice haven’t forced a vote of the UN Security Council on Syria nor
put the UN members on record to either support the protesters or the dictators
in Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia. While the Arab revolution has unfolded over the last several months, Rice has failed to even offer draft resolutions for discussion.
Instead, Rice has allowed Russia and China to dictate the non-agenda.
It’s clear from Obama’s Middle East speech today that he has sidelined the UN. Team Obama should be applauded for realizing their previous commitments to utilize the UN for all international issues was a foolish campaign promise to look un-Bush (see also: Iraq pullout in one year, closing GITMO, enhanced interrogations, military tribunals).
Obama should speak more forcefully about Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and call for him to step down. He should also immediately withdraw the U.S. Ambassador from Damascus, kick out the Syrian Ambassador in Washington and call upon Europeans to do the same. If Obama believes that the status quo is unsustainable then he should stop supporting it. Timidity is exactly what Assad and Ahmedinejad are looking for.
When Barack Obama was running for president he committed to leading the United Nations and other countries towards a common global goal. Obama believed that he could speak to allies and dictators directly and charm them into seeing the error of their ways. Since becoming President of the United States, Barack Obama has failed to convince the UN to follow his lead. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, a member of the President’s cabinet, has only been able to pass one resolution (compared to the Bush Administration’s five) on Iran’s illegal nuclear ambition despite the issue being the U.S.’ most important foreign policy goal. Rice also failed to convince Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon to support that one resolution despite 17 months of diplomacy.
Obama and Rice have been unsuccessful in their attempt to convince the Security Council to make progress on international problems they committed to deal with, issues like Sudan, North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian issues. Recently, Obama and Rice failed to convince Russia, China, India, Germany and Brazil to support a no-fly zone over Libya. Despite all the talk of global unity, team Obama has been wildly ineffective at the UN and scored fewer victories than the Bush team they so heavily derided as unilateralists. This week, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called President Obama’s Libya policy “not very helpful” in an interview with the Financial Times. Most every main stream U.S. media outlet failed to report the former UN leader’s slight.
We learned from Annan this week that White House staffers have called upon him for advice and counsel on how to deal with foreign policy crises. So far, Obama staffers have failed to convince the former Secretary-General of the merits of their slow response to the Middle East revolutions. Samantha Powers, the liberal academic who made a career out of calling for more international intervention, has tried to convince Annan that there is no civil war in Libya and sought his advice and counsel on what to do next. Annan responded by criticizing the White House team’s approach. In speaking with the FT, Annan said:
“And, as I suspected, the rebels will not be ready to talk to Gaddafi. They want Nato to help remove him, and of course, I think eventually probably he will have to go, but you cannot put it upfront the way people are saying: Gaddafi must go. A future Libya without Gaddafi must be part of the negotiations and handled properly. It should be part of the agenda, and this mantra of Sarkozy, Cameron, Gaddafi is one… Obama saying Gaddafi must go. Putting it upfront like that…it’s not very helpful.”
In typical UN double-speak Annan goes on to say “on the other hand, I see their problem…But on the other hand, I think they were right…”
Annan also questions the benefits of liberating Iraq and fails to see any progress made from turning that dictatorship into a developing democracy:
“One of my biggest regrets was the fact that as an institution and an international community we could not stop the war in Iraq. That really was very difficult and very painful. Every fibre in my body felt it was wrong. I spoke to leaders, we spoke to people, we tried… we couldn’t stop it… and we see the results.”
Annan goes on to dismiss accusations that his son, Kojo, benefitted from the UN’s Oil for Food program and told a story how he thought U.S. Ambassador John Bolton was a bully for reminding the Security Council that “Uncle Sam isn’t going to like it (increased UN spending)”. Annan also outrageously links a Mexican Ambassador’s lack of support for the 18th Iraq draft resolution in 2003 with a car accident that killed him more than 18 months after he was recalled for inappropriate comments made about the United States.
Annan said, “On the question of Iraq, some governments showed incredible courage: the way even Mexico and Chile wouldn’t roll over for the US; but the ambassadors paid the price. Both of them were recalled fairly shortly, and in fact the Mexican one died in an accident soon after he got out.”
The revolution sweeping across the Middle East started in Beirut shortly after the February 14, 2005, assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others. The ensuing Cedar Revolution, launched by Lebanese pro-democracy supporters, targeted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime and demanded an end to Syria’s 30 year occupation of Lebanon. The Lebanese revolution succeeded in ousting Assad’s military and intelligence officials from Lebanon and driving them back into Syria by the end of April 2005. It was an incredible moment celebrated by pro-democracy supporters throughout Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt and ignited the reform efforts we see in Syria today. The United States, too, celebrated the expulsion of Assad’s militiamen because of the message it sent not only to Syria but Iran.
Syria’s defeat in 2005 was a moment of opportunity for the U.S. and our allies that has since been squandered. The U.S. government’s efforts to build on the Cedar Revolutions’ successes faded over the years and altogether stopped with the election of President Barack Obama. Today, Syria and Hezbollah are in control of Lebanon again with Iran calling the shots.
But the Syrian uprisings of the last week give Obama another rare opportunity to push for greater democracy in Syria and send a powerful message to Iran that it could be next. He should seize the moment quickly.
In 2009, after a year of ignoring the signs of Syrian and Iranian growing influence, President Obama naively ordered the return of the U.S. Ambassador to Syria after a six-year hiatus – a punishment for bad behavior. Obama’s diplomatic gift and peace offering gave the brutal regime — controlled by Hezbollah, Damascus and Tehran — the instant credibility it desired.
Nothing has been gained by Obama’s concession to Assad and much has been lost. As moderate regimes throughout the Arab world begin to fall, the most repressive Arab governments are reaping the benefits of weaker neighbors and moving to take more ground. The Obama Administration meanwhile struggles to understand who our friends and enemies are. It was more aggressive with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak than with the much more repressive Bashar al-Assad. The inconsistent Obama strategy has been called “selective” by the U.S. media and hypocritical and foolish by the Arab street.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seem to not be able to do diplomacy and chew gum. The Administration has struggled to find a coherent policy and failed to articulate its goals. When Yemen and Bahrain launched bloody attacks on peaceful protesters, the U.S. botched an opportunity to stand firm on our values against an ally’s repressive actions. Instead, Clinton defaulted to the tried and true talking point about our interests and how helpful those governments have historically been to our military and the support they have given to our anti-terrorism efforts.
But why not push our friends toward reform and our enemies toward regime change? White House and State Department officials should be able to have adult conversations with our allies that include multi-faceted approaches to the policies we disagree with. Certainly U.S. allies that receive vast amounts of US taxpayer dollars are able to accept our aid but stand strongly against some of our policies (Pakistan comes to mind).
For Obama, chastising brutal regimes has proven to be much harder than calling out House Republicans. Syrian President Assad, for instance, has consistently supported Hezbollah and Hamas at Iran’s asking with little consequence from Obama and Clinton. If we want to pressure Iran to give up its illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons then we better find enough resolve to support the overthrow of Iran’s closest ally, Syria.
Over the last month, hundreds of protesters have turned into thousands and then tens of thousands of voices throughout Syria calling for more freedoms and an end to Assad’s reign. What started in Dara’a as a student protest has morphed into tens of thousands in Damascus demanding democratic reforms. A simple look at Twitter shows incredible enthusiasm from Arab youth and democracy supporters for ending Assad’s government.
While much as been written by the U.S. media that the intelligence community didn’t connect the dots in the lead up to Sept. 11, very little has been said of the State Department’s failure to recognize the intensity of Arab reform efforts. Clinton missed the changes afoot in Syria even after opening up a new Embassy in Damascus last year, and she has chosen to stay behind the region’s news by stating the obvious and usually waiting to speak for two or three days after most everyone knows what has developed. Clinton’s me-too message of greater political participation for women in the Arab world seems like stale and recycled talking points from former First Lady Laura Bush’s and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s efforts. And there have been longer readouts for journalists on the president’s NCAA tournament picks than for his meetings on Libya or Syria.
The U.S. mainstream media’s protection of Clinton’s slow response peaked with Anna Wintour’s Vogue Magazine profile of Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma, last month. While Syrian democracy reformers organized, an embarrassingly naïve and apologetic piece about the Syrian first lady by writer Joan Juliet Buck was released weeks before the Assads’ government started killing protesters. To be sure, Vogue would have never produced such a ridiculous piece if its’ it-girl Hillary Clinton, instead of calling Assad a “reformer,” had been speaking out more forcefully against a regime that has supported the killing of Americans. Buck’s piece has since been used by Arab bloggers to show the arrogance of the Syrian regime and the cluelessness of the U.S. media.
Obama now has a rare historical chance to make progress on U.S. interests and values by speaking clearly and forcefully against a brutal regime that has worked against American policy in Iraq, Iran, Israel and Lebanon. If the president squanders that opportunity, it would be fair to conclude that the Obama Administration is strategically uninterested in changing Syrian and Iranian behavior.
Now is not the time to back off supporting the Arab street and its march towards greater democracy and free markets. Syria could be next; and the protesters need to know that President Obama stands with them in toppling their leader. This isn’t a call for use of U.S. military force but it is a call to de-mask Damascus and speak out for U.S. interests at the same time.
From the moment Moammar Gaddafi started his vicious military campaign against his people, French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of confronting the Libyan madman. While President Obama thought about what to do, Sarkozy met with members of the Libyan opposition at the Elysee Palace on March 10 to support an overthrow of the Libyan leader. Soon thereafter, France became the first country to formally recognize the Libyan opposition group “The Interim Transitional National Council.”
Sarkozy’s government started planning for a No Fly Zone over Libya before the thought of a UN resolution or NATO endorsement was pushed upon the world stage.
While the French were leading the world to confront Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi’s brutal air and ground attacks, the indecisive Obama Administration was “weighing their options and discussing the issue” as one official said.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were surprised when British Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed Sarkozy’s No Fly Zone on March 11. And the White House had still not decided what to do about Libya when the Arab League endorsed the idea on March 12.
America’s sidelined spectator status during a developing foreign policy crisis highlighted Obama’s strategy to make the United States equal among many and not unique within the international community. Obama blinked and democracy seekers around the world have taken note of America’s timidity. The U.S. inaction in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia will surely encourage despots and may even send the unfortunate message to human rights activists that America will not support their bravery.
Sarkozy and the Arab League took control of the world stage after watching the indecisive Obama Administration hem and haw over what to do about a madman shelling his people. Obama met with his national security team multiple times only to disclose more meetings and deliberation. Sarkozy had promised to formally establish diplomatic relations by exchanging ambassadors between Paris and Benghazi before Obama decided what to do. And Britain’s Cameron seemingly left the United States out of his planning when he proclaimed, “It’s important that the countries of Europe show political will, show ambition and show unity in being clear that Col. Gaddafi must go. His regime is illegitimate.” World leaders were reading the clues coming from Washington and deciding to act without the U.S.
By the time Obama decided to seek support from the United Nations, our Ambassador Susan Rice was left on the sidelines because the French, British and Arab League had already written a draft resolution. When the votes were finally called in the Security Council, Susan Rice and the Obama team had failed to convince India, Germany and Brazil to support the No Fly Zone Resolution. So much for an administration that had promised to lead the world.
“The turning point was really the Arab League statement on Saturday (March 12),” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on March 16. “That was an extraordinary statement in which the Arab League asked for Security Council action against one of its own members.” But the Obama team had still not acted a full week after the Arab League statement. State Department officials say Hillary Clinton was pushing President Obama to do something but was being told to slow down. “S was frustrated and embarrassed” by the lack of U.S. action, one official told me using the lingo S for Secretary of State.
While some Obama supporters defend the President’s delay by saying that a President must “take their time and be deliberate” about military decision making of this magnitude, it was an uneasy President Obama that was left to read a teleprompter statement voicing support for the Libyan opposition a full 7 days after the Arab League had done it. Unlike Obama’s base of support in the U.S., the French centre-left opposition is largely supportive of Sarkozy’s leadership on Libya. Jake Tapper of ABC News tweeted that protesters were already gathering at the White House to demand that Obama stop any U.S. military involvement in Libya.
Obama’s indecisiveness and lack of resolve infuriated the right and his decision to follow the Europeans and the Arab League into a No Fly Zone has angered the left. The President and his team must decide if they will retreat in the face of our international obligations or live up to his promise that “The U.S. will not sit idly by”. The simple fact is that the U.S. did sit idly by while a madman attacked his people with military aircraft. Obama either is strategically withdrawing America from the world stage or crippled with indecision. Vacillation and fear are terrible messages to send to our enemies.