Getting Rid of the Bad Guys

June 6, 2011

The Arab Spring started out with great hope after regime change in Tunisia and Egypt. But since those heady days of protest and renewal, the region has settled into a discouraging chaos and hardening of power positions.

It looks like someone in his inner circle will have to kill Gaddafi in order to get him out of Libya, Yemen is in a state of civil war as armed tribes vie for control, and Syria’s al Assad appears ready to murder as many of his own countrymen and women as necessary in order to stay in control.  Other countries like the sheikdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have clamped down on demonstrations and democratization, and Iraq seems to be sliding into a bloody terrorism.

What started out as a movement with great hope and promise is now just a mess of violence and oppression. So what happened? The simple answer is that removing dictators who have been in power for 20,30, or 40 years, especially those dictatorships that are really family-run empires, is no easy task; in fact such regime change is the most difficult process of governmental reform possible.

These dictators and their extended families have too much at stake to just give up when there is political turmoil and challenges to their authority. Also it is important to remember that over the years these guys have amassed huge stores of weapons and trained elite troops to keep the lid on a restive society.

A ragtag army of citizen soldiers or protestors is not going to dislodge a well-organized dictatorial army and security policy in a few days of vigorous protest. Just look at Libya where NATO planes have been bombing Gaddafi’s troops and military infrastructure for weeks without success. Bold talk by European leaders is not going to make Gaddafi leave his compound for exile.

The Arab Spring will likely turn out to be an Arab Summer, Fall and Winter and more Springs before the dictators are removed from power, if they are ever removed from power.

What can be expected over the next weeks and months is more bloodshed and more anger as protests fail to bring change and certaily fail to bring any semblance of democracy. It is just too difficult to get rid of the bad guys.

Making Up for Rwanda and Kosovo

March 29, 2011

President Obama added a new foreign policy position to our existing doctrines with his decision to join NATO forces in the no fly zone over Libya and the agreement to take ” all necessary measures” against Col. Gadhafi as outlined in United Nations resolution 1973. The United States is now committed to coming to the assistance of those fighters for freedom who face ” looming genocide.” As the President stated in his speech on March 29th at Ft. McNair, ” I refused to wait for the image of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

In the tradition of former president Jimmy Carter, who added human rights and opposition to supporting authoritarian dictators around the world to our foreign policy prescriptions, the Obama Doctrine now takes this country down the road to protecting democratic rebels in countries where we do not have a direct national security interest.

With this involvement in Libya the United Staates has now resurrected the Carter position that we must take action not only because of national security and national interest, but also because of our values, our guiding principles, our belief in human rights. In short, this country cannot just sit by and let people be killed who want to be free, even though we really don’t know how much they are committed to freedom or our values, principles and beliefs.

Although there has been much made of the women on Obama’s foreign policy team such as UN Representative Susan Rice, National Security advisor Samantha Power and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushing the president to take this new direction in foreign policy, there is also the memory of the United States standing by when the killing started in Rwanda, killing that eventually took the lives of 750,000 innocents. Also there was Kosovo where the United States waited far to long to get involved knowing that thousands of Muslims were ” cleansed” by Serbian nationalists.

So with the Obama Doctrine in place the obvious question is, will this new policy direction be used elsewhere, such as in Syria or perhaps even Iran? Is the Obama Doctrine just an aberration because this country was pulled into the fighting by the British and the French? The Obama Doctrine is new and really untested, so only time will tell whether the United States has indeed taken a new direction in its response to popular uprisings against tyrants.

But one thing is clear, rather than turn away from the killings in Libya as the US did in Rwanda and Kosovo, Obama decided to save lives.

Teddy Roosevelt and “Chronic Wrongdoing”

March 15, 2011

During the glory days of United States power in the Caribbean President Teddy Roosevelt said the following when faced with instability and violence in our region.

” Chronic wrongdoing may ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere, however reluctantly, the adherence of the United States to the exercise of an international police power.”

With the United States fighting a war in Afghanistan and still with a major presence in Iraq, South Korea and other outposts around the world, President Obama cannot be a modern day Teddy Roosevelt and respond to chronic wrongdoing in Libya ( or anywhere else for that matter) by acting like a global policeman.

The United States is experiencing what is commonly called military overstretch, quite simply we are just spread too thin militarily around the world to the point where  this country cannot afford in blood and treasure another intervention.

Moreover, the American people, despite the pleas of some in Congress that we establish a no fly zone to shut down Gaddafi, are not interested in expanding our police power.

The United States has entered a time as a world power where this country can no longer use its military muscle to change events or leaders. We still can talk tough and impose economic and diplomatic sanctions, but the days of invading Iraq by the two Bush presidents and staying on in Afghanistan by Obama are now not part of our long term international strategy.

Political leaders now realize that we cannot spend billions and billions on foreign interventions or lose thousands on new battlefields. It is not that the United States is powerless- we still have the world’s best military. Rather it is that domestic politics have changed, espeically the support from the American people, and of course the huge national debt.

Candidates running for President in 2012 will most likely talk about restraint rather than intervention and unlike Teddy Roosevelt will ignore chronic wrongdoing around the world.

Sure we could proably help the rebels in Libya and bring down Gaddafi, but at what cost? We could lose pilots, we could create more anti-Americanism in the Middle East and most importantly we would be extending our military overstretch even more. So no more Teddy Roosevelt-style presidents talking about international police power to respond to chronic wrongdoing.