No sooner had I posted my complaints about Mark Mardell’s continued, slavish defense of the President and use of the BBC website to set forth his own personal opinions on foreign policy, the BBC’s North America editor put up another post on the matter. Actually he’s done two posts, but I’ll get to the second one in a minute.
The Enigma Variations
As if in rebuttal to my post, Mardell tells us that the President is, in fact, telling a couple Mohammedan leaders to get with the program and back the use of military force against Ghaddafi. Why we never heard about this before is unknown. Not only that, but apparently the reason the US hasn’t been leading the call for a no-fly zone in the first place is not because the President can’t make a decision or simply doesn’t want to do it, but because the US military and Sec. of Defense are against the whole idea. It’s still not His fault.
Now, it’s not exactly a shock that the top brass really don’t want to get involved in this, for a variety of valid reasons which we need not get into here. But Mardell’s whole defense here is based on the idea that the only way a no-fly zone could possibly happen is if the US sends in massive amounts of military force, distracting from Iraq and Afghanistan, that we’ll get bogged down in a country which is not a major priority, and that nobody wants this to look like yet more Western imperialism.
Firstly, while it may be the conventional wisdom that only the US has the military might to do anything worthwhile, who says that’s how it has to be? If The Obamessiah is, as Mardell constantly reminds us, against the childish concept of military invention, why isn’t He doing something else to put pressure on Ghaddafi? Where is His speech to the UN about sanctions? Where is His diplomatic pressure on China and Russia to help out? Oh, that’s right, both countries had their way with Him last time He tried to negotiate anything with them (There you go again, still obsessed with the notion of America’s decline – ed.).
Surely a great humanitarian who, as Mardell told us, feels an emotional attachment with the Libyans’ quest for freedom, and was dead set against using military force, would be working night and day on alternative solutions. Yet we see….what? Scowling? Thoughtfulness? I mean, I’m not even one of those demanding an “unapologetically aggressive America storming ahead”. I’m just asking for the President to do what Mardell said He wanted to do: be on the right side of history. I could care less about military intervention per se. If there are other alternatives, it’s fine by me, and would, I suspect, be fine with most of my fellow United Statesians who are looking for our President to act like a world leader when called upon.
And that’s the key element missing in all of Mardell’s blogposts and reporting about the President and this situation: the people of Libya are asking for help. Unless we’re getting yet another vox pops from Benghazi or something like that, the BBC’s reporting makes it seem as if the only people calling for intervention are ill-advised or foolish warmongers. As Ghaddafi gets closer and closer to shutting down the rebellion and continues to slaughter his own people, it’s looking less and less moral to sit back and watch it happen.
What’s really wrong with the perspective from which Mardell and the BBC report is the Narrative that the President has sat on His hands because He doesn’t want it to seem like US imperialism, forcing dumb ol’ democracy on people who
are culturally opposed to who don’t necessarily want it right now. What about all those Libyans we keep hearing asking for help? How would we be imposing a nasty foreign idea on people who are telling everyone who will listen that this is what they want? If that’s what the President and His Administration think, then I say they’re pretty misguided and missing the point. Mardell seems uninterested in considering this either way, as he’s stuck in ideologue mode.
Bahrain may be more strategically important in one sense, but Libya is the poster child everyone’s looking at right now, including the Bahrain leaders. Ghaddafi chose not to follow Mubarak’s laudable example, and should face the consequences, and the leaders of Bahrain would get a clear choice of options if he does. It’s not a difficult concept.
But none of this is seriously addressed by the BBC. Most of the talking heads they have on have been advocating against a no-fly zone. Sure, they’re full of admonitions about the practicality of it, and sounding very sober, yet the discussion has been mostly one-sided. And I don’t even mean we need to hear more from people calling for the bombs to start falling. Where is the discussion of alternatives to a US/UK bombing run? If there isn’t one, do we ever get to blame the world leader who was supposed to be The One to make the US a world leader of morality?
Now for the second post.
To Mardell’s horror, the US has now given its blessing to a UN-backed military action against Libya. Continuing his adamant advice against it, Mardell gets it wrong about how things work:
Now the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has said that the resolution which is being discussed may need to go beyond this proposal, adding that no-fly zones have “inherent limitations” in protecting citizens at immediate risk.
She said the UN Security Council is focused on swift and meaningful action to halt the killing on the ground. We’re told that is diplomatic speak for airstrikes and bombardment from the sea. Sending in troops has been ruled out.
Sounds like a bombing run to me. In order to create a no-fly zone, one must first bomb the crap out of the enemies air defenses. Now here’s where Mardell gets it wrong:
She has a point. Most in the US top brass are scornful about the idea of a no-fly zone. The US flew more than 30 sorties a day over Iraq and it didn’t bring down Saddam Hussein.
Except the no-fly zone wasn’t meant to oust him. It was meant to stop him from slaughtering the Kurds, the Marsh Arabs, and loads of other people he didn’t like, and invading other countries again. And it worked. I can sense reality quietly slipping away here.
No-fly zones would have been no good against the awful massacres of Rwanda and Srebrenica.
What does this have to do with anything? Nobody was calling for a no-fly zone then. Different deal entirely, required troops on the ground, and nobody wanted to do anything because it was an “African problem”, to be solved only by Africans. Same with Zimbabwe, in case Mardell is thinking of bringing that up next time he’s advocating against military action. Or Darfur, for that matter.
And Srebrenica? Is he joking? What does he think stopped the massacres in the Balkans of getting even worse? A BBC charity telethon? Even Matt Frei understands what happened there, and how it relates to Libya.
Then Mardell repeats his standard line of defense:
There’s been serious debate inside President Obama’s administration about the wisdom of using military force at all.
There’s an aversion to getting involved in another war with another Muslim country, or giving the impression that democracy is a Western plot. Libya is seen as a distraction, not a core US interest.
Again we get the blame spread around, and again Mardell puts forth the lie that this is going to look like US imperialism. Again we’re asked to pretend that George Bush was wrong and nobody in the Arab and/or Muslim world really wants democracy. Again we’re asked to sweep all those cries for help under the rug. Again we’re supposed to pretend that Britain and France and a few other countries couldn’t do a nicely symbolic move with only auxiliary support from the US. All to maintain ideological purity.
Also, I love how it’s acceptable again for the US to let dictators slaughter their own people where it’s not a core US interest. It’s not selfish or parochial at all now that Bush isn’t in charge. What happened to the criticisms of US hypocrisy because we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan but won’t do it in other cases?
Sometimes leadership doesn’t look pretty, or look like a choreographed TV speech. Sometimes it requires compromise and cooperation. Sometimes leadership requires actually leading. But it never looks like taking a back seat and hoping somebody else steps up, no matter how Mardell wants to spin it.
There is still no discussion from Mardell or anyone from the BBC about why, if the President doesn’t want the US military to go in there, He hasn’t been working night and day to get every other Muslim country to put real pressure on Ghaddafi. If the US has no useful influence in the region now, what was the point of all that bowing and scraping when the President was doing His first meet-and-greet sessions? What happened to the world leader whom the BBC told us was going to redeem the US in the eyes of the world? This is His chance to make the US look good, but since He’s ideologically opposed to it, it’s making Him – and the country – look not so good. Again, I’m not talking exclusively about a bombing run. There are many other options which would put pressure on Ghaddafi and be just as positively symbolic. A naval blockade, neighboring countries other than Egypt putting serious troops on the borders, shutting down his bank accounts, just to name a few. There are many ways the President can lead and make the US look good without blowing anything up.
But that’s not happening. Not because the President is so deliberate or thoughtful, not because His Administration wants to “base decisions on facts” (a sly dig at Bush there), and not for any other reason Mardell wants to push on you. It’s because of poor leadership, and an ideological opposition to having the US take a strong position on the world stage. We knew that during the election in 2008, and we’re seeing the fruits of it now. The BBC continues to dismiss that notion, and spin the story every other way possible.