Something very interesting happened the other day: BBC News Online allowed through an article that was slightly critical of the President, and even pointed out His escalation of Bush’s war policies. Because the BBC is generally relentless in their positive coverage, support, and plain old propaganda on behalf of the White House, I thought it was important to give credit where it’s due, even if there are a couple of problems with the piece. If it wasn’t such a rare event, it wouldn’t seem so remarkable. But it is.
Andrew North is actually allowed to frown, if only gently, at the fact that a Noble Peace Prize winner was the deciding vote in starting yet another war. Even the sub-editor tasked with writing the headline gets into the act.
Why it took Andrew North to do this and not the BBC North America editor, Mark Mardell, I have no idea. Mardell is the one who is supposed to be giving his insight on these things, explaining the issues to us, helping create that rapport with the US the BBC wants you to have.
North begins by outlining the current wars He’s running:
It probably wasn’t what the Nobel committee had in mind when it awarded the Peace Prize to President Barack Obama two years ago.
Two months later he ramped up the war in Afghanistan, sending in 30,000 extra US troops.
Now he has ordered massive air strikes on Libya – with United Nations backing, but still with the United States in the lead.
Judged by his actions, this supposedly anti-war president looks almost as warlike as President George W Bush.
If you include Mr Obama’s increased use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, he’s got the US involved in more conflicts than his much-criticised predecessor.
I have to say I’m impressed. This is the first time I’ve seen this presented in a BBC report. There have been others mentioning various elements individually, but no one has put it together like this and actually point the finger at the Nobel laureate this way. Of course, it’s a bit silly to say that the current President is “almost as warlike” as His predecessor when the very next sentence contradicts it by saying that He is involved in even more conflicts, but I’ll let that slide. After all, one can’t expect a believer to abandon his faith all in one go.
Then we get the obligatory defense:
Judged by Mr Obama’s words though, he is in plenty of internal conflict over his decisions.
Far from beating the drums of war, he keeps highlighting the risks and promising US action on Libya will last “days not weeks”.
He is conflicted, alright. He ran on a platform of shrinking the US’s position in the world (whether one likes it or not, that’s what it amounts to), and allowed the media to define His foreign policy goals as being dialogue and smart diplomacy above all else. President Teddy Roosevelt used to say that a good policy was to “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” (He didn’t originally use it in regards to military action, but it came to be used that way later.) The current President, however, wanted to speak softly and carry not a stick but a big carrot.
One can imagine how difficult it must have been for Him, then, when the world asked Him to bring out the big stick of US military force. He must hate it. North’s analysis of the hows and whys, though, seems to misunderstand what’s really going on.
Take a glance at the opinion polls and you can see why.
Less than a week since the first cruise missiles were launched, the clock is already ticking on how long Americans will back him.
Polls by Gallup, CBS and CNN since the attack show Mr Obama’s approval ratings hovering around 50%.
Now, I can find a couple of other polls which show His approval ratings even lower, but it’s only a few percentage points, and not not worth splitting hairs over. We all know this is more or less where His ratings have been for some time, even dipping a couple points below 50% here and there, which is key to North’s goal here. What he’s trying to do is point out how odd it is that His approval ratings are still so low.
Hardly encouraging, when the start of a military campaign is usually the high point of public support.
This is where North’s analysis goes off the rails. The public isn’t displeased with the fact that He’s started a military campaign, per se, but with the way he
dithered deliberated for weeks while the rest of the world (including the Secretary of State and other officials) was wondering if there was anyone at home. North then makes an astonishing comparison:
Surveys gave President Bush 90% approval ratings when he went into Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
Even for the early stages of the 2003 Iraq invasion, his ratings were over 60%. They went downhill from then on.
Now, I don’t believe that North thinks that we United Statesians are such warmongers, always calling for what Mardell described as an “unapologetically aggressive America storming ahead”, full stop, regardless of the circumstances. So when the President starts yet another war, North doesn’t expect us to foam at the mouth and wave the flag and worship our leader, just because we’re happy for another bit of the old ultra-violence. It’s very clumsy, but North is setting up the reader to understand that, while the public had a reason to be overwhelmingly in favor of invading Afghanistan, there is no such motivation this time.
Alternatively, it might be that many in the country have been unhappy with the way He’s acted for the last month and more. Contrary to Mardell’s belief that we’re mostly a bunch of knuckle-dragging warmongers, “obsessed with the notion of American decline”, many of us wanted the President to lead when asked to do so by the Libyans themselves, as well as by the UN. As I’ve said before, it seems a bit silly to claim that only extremists want their country to have a strong international position (which, please, let’s not define as merely blowing up and occupying whatever we want, whenever we want, but rather something more prosaic and diplomatic). Standing with Muslims hoping for freedom is exactly the kind of thing He promised in that infamous Cairo speech, and of course He never expected to have to actually do it.
But that would only explain part of why His approval numbers are not in the stratosphere. North invites us to “dig deeper”, and notice that only 47% of the public actually approve of the military action against Libya.
North earns more points in my book by actually pointing out the hypocrisy contradiction between the words of Candidate Obamessiah and His incarnation as President:
“We need better judgment when we decide to send our young men and women into war,” said one of the candidates in the 2008 White House race.
He listed three key benchmarks: “an imminent threat”, protecting “American interests” and a “plan to succeed and to exit”.
That candidate of course was Barack Obama. Does President Obama meet his own benchmarks in going into Libya?
North goes on to point out that only 40% of us think Libya is important in this way, and many more are unsure. It’s fair to say that this is a bipartisan thing. Lots of people on both sides of the political spectrum don’t think it’s necessarily a priority for us. Militarily, strategically, it really isn’t. But there’s more to geopolitical strategy than where one puts the troops. There is also the notion that the US could have put our money where our mouth is and taken the lead – like everyone was asking us to – in helping Muslims gain the freedom and independence they were asking for. If we had started this no-fly zone stuff a month ago, things would be very different now. Ghaddafi wouldn’t have been emboldened so much, wouldn’t have had time to strengthen his military position, wouldn’t have watched us blink and felt like he could go the distance. The US military could have done the exact same thing they’ve done in the last few days, and then backed off and handed the reins over to NATO or Cowboy Dave or whomever, and the President would have looked like a star.
But that’s not what happened at all. Instead, the President made us look weak, and made Himself look feckless. To everyone except Mark Mardell, of course, who was recently trying to tell us He was a genius and the only reason the stupid United Statesians were upset is because He made the UN relevant again. He’s still defending the President on his blog now, but that’s a matter for another time. Back to Andrew North:
Leading that charge is the Republican House Speaker John Boehner, but rumblings of discontent are being heard from the Democratic side too.
The President is not looking good to very many people these days. And it’s not just because He’s doing something some people don’t like. It’s because of a total lack of leadership, communication, and capability in this situation. People on both sides have seen it and commented on it, yet North only focuses on the fact that many people don’t think we should be going after Ghaddafi as the reason why His approval numbers aren’t up. That’s only part of the story, and certainly not the real lesson to be learned here.
Still, though, I want to give Andrew North and his boss credit for even daring to point out that the President has escalated Bush’s wars, killed more people with drones, and started yet another military action, all in the face of the Nobel prize.
And to his credit, North even emailed the Nobel committee asking for comment. No surprise that they didn’t respond.
So, is this a sign that the veil is being lifted ever so slightly? Is it dawning on the Beeboids that He isn’t everything they thought He was? I’m not sure, as this piece is mostly about how the public simply don’t approve of the war on Libya, and not about how He handled the situation for the previous six weeks or so. But it’s pretty clear that there’s a separation between what North is saying here and the Narrative we keep hearing from Mardell and others. The agenda has not been forced all the way through. So there may yet be hope.
It’s a rare occasion, so I think it’s worth noting.