by Leon Wieseltier
Again I quote from Leon Wieseltier's most recent essay in The New Republic.
...They [Libyans] are fighting authoritarianism, but he [Obama] 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. He worries about the repetition of an old paradigm. They are in the midst of a new paradigm. He does not want to be Bush. They want him to be Obama; or what Obama was supposed to be.
It is a fine sentiment, Obama’s insistence upon the autonomy of the peoples who are making these democratic uprisings; but a number of things need to be said about it. For a start, there already are foreigners who have intervened in Tripoli. They are Qaddafi’s mercenaries, the savage thugs whom he has imported to save his regime by sowing fear. The deployment of Western air power over Libya would be an intervention against this intervention. Is Qaddafi to be allowed outside help and the people of Libya denied it? And help, after all, is all that the terrorized population of Tripoli is beseeching us for. The point that weirdly eludes Obama is that assistance does not compromise the autonomy of those who receive it. Sometimes autonomous people cannot do it alone. This does not mean that we should do it for them. Helping them is not doing it for them. Indeed, they are already doing it: half of Libya has been liberated, the regime has been robbed of any semblance of legitimacy and authority, there are anti-Qaddafi forces fighting effectively near Tripoli, the dictator is quite plainly doomed. We, the United States, accomplished none of this. But the death throes of Qaddafi’s rule could be terrible, and it is only to thwart a slaughter that we need to act. Even if we intervene, we will not have democratized Libya. Libya will have democratized Libya. And it is both our moral duty and our strategic responsibility to align ourselves with this emerging and emancipated Libya.
The idea that assistance does not compromise the autonomy of the assisted is in fact one of the central beliefs of liberalism. We invoke it in our social policies all the time. We help people to help themselves. And that is all that is being asked of us by these liberalizing revolutions; no less, but no more. We disappointed Tehran. We disappointed Cairo. Now we are disappointing Tripoli. It is so foolish, and so sad, and so indecent.I never could have imagined the changes and crises that President Obama now faces. I always feared his inexperience in foreign policy--but never could have imagined what we are currently witnessing. I do not by the way think that Senator McCain would have handled these situations much better, but I do believe that Wieseltier has highlighted the essential problem of Obama's foreign policy. The United States stands as an example of a thriving democracy for all the world. The world does look to this country as an example to emulate--that is part of the reason why Obama was right about Guantanamo, but wrong about failing to shut it down immediately. (I sometimes dream that the world looks to Israel in a similar way and that Israel could support these fledgling democracies in its region, but realities cloud that vision.) We can help and assist others without imposing our will on them. I do not relish sending the American military to yet another Middle Eastern country, but that must be an option even though there must be other ways to help. It is indeed our moral duty to prevent at the very least foreign mercenaries from interfering in Libya's internal revolt, and as well to prevent Iran from gaining even more influence by meddling in Egypt's revolution. This is our duty. I want our president to lead not just think, meditate and process. Lives depend on his leadership. We could very well help tip the scales toward democracy and away from dictatorship. History's judgment of inaction will not be kind. Hope and change are not just words. They are more often tied to action.