Friday, March 25, 2011

Defending Obama's 'Dithering'

Timothy Egan in the NYTimes
The real problem for Republicans is that they are perplexed over what position to take on an issue that defies partisanship. So, Obama’s least-thoughtful critics attack him for thinking.

Ponderous deliberation, which doesn’t sit well in an age when we all move information with our thumbs, has been a hallmark of the Obama presidency from the beginning. His 90 percent of circumstances [that Presidents don't control] started on Inauguration Day, when Bush handed him the worst recession since the Great Depression, and continued through an oil spill that nearly poisoned an entire ecosystem.

During the spill, it was liberal cable pundits who wanted a president who could shout, emote and point fingers. Instead, he quickly negotiated a $20 billion escrow fund from BP that attempts to make whole those hurt by the spill. Similar success followed with the auto bailout, which saved General Motors, but cost Obama much of his early political capital.
Fareed Zakaria makes a similar point in Time.
In the Libyan crisis, the Obama Administration made clear from the start that it was not enthusiastic about military action and would support it only if it were requested by the Libyan opposition and the Arab League — and with Europe doing much of the heavy lifting. This led to a remarkable turn of events in which on March 12 the Arab League officially requested that the U.N. impose a no-fly zone over Libya. This shift has not gotten the attention it deserves. In the 66 years since its founding, the Arab League has served as a shield for dictators and rarely produced anything but windy rhetoric about Arab solidarity and Palestine. The idea that it would act against one of its members — and because of human-rights violations! — was unimaginable one month ago. Five days later, the U.N. Security Council passed resolutions authorizing action against Gaddafi's forces. France and Britain were positively itching for military action.

It is highly unlikely that any other countries would have pressed forward in the way they did had they felt Washington was going to plunge in anyway. The Obama Administration made clear that other countries had to be invested in the Libyan operation, which meant they had to offer public support and military or economic assistance, before the U.S. would get involved. So we now have the prospect of a Libyan undertaking that will be operated and financed in significant measure by countries like Britain, France, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom are far more affected by instability in the region than the U.S. is. Yes, France and Britain have squabbled over who will lead, but in this new kind of multilateralism, coalition management will be a constant challenge.

Answering that challenge depends in part on how one defines leadership. Harvard's Joseph Nye once observed that press accounts of the first Gulf war invariably described it as a great weakness that America had to ask its allies to pay for the war. But, Nye suggested, isn't it an even greater sign of power that you can get your friends to foot your bills? More important, if we want a world in which the U.S. is not the only country fighting every battle, we will have to allow other countries to have lead roles and real responsibilities. The U.S. cannot always do the cooking and tell its allies to do the dishes.

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