Your faithful blogger has been busy and is currently on vacation in LA, but I did find time to craft a reply to the Politico Arena query of the day as to whether or not events in Tripoli vindicated Obama’s approach to the crisis. I wrote:
Qadhafi’s relatively quick collapse is a political blessing for President Obama. He allowed himself to be backed into a commitment to support Qadhafi’s ouster by the Europeans (one day the Libyan intervention will be a case study on incrementalism.) Given that scenario the intervention has gone about as well as could be expected – so far. How events in Libya will develop, what kind of regime will emerge, and whether a humanitarian crisis will result are all open questions.
Barring disaster on these fronts, Obama will be able to portray this is a foreign policy success. But looking deeper, this affair is a disturbing reminder of how – as little as we would like to believe it – presidents are driven by events.
I wrote this quickly (and before I had coffee) but realistically what were the President’s options. A President McCain might have voice more active support, but American resources are limited. A bit more bombing would not have made up for the initial military failings of the rebels. A more isolationist President might have tried to avoid involvement, but placing the US on the side of a particularly vicious Arab dictator would have opened the President to enormous criticism. Failure to support NATO allies (particularly considering their contributions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere – not as much as we’d like perhaps – but substantial all the same) would also have been untenable.
Finally, events on the ground matter. That the people of Libya were willing to rise up against Qadhafi is the historic achievement. Same in Egypt and Syria, without that aiding the overthrow of dictators by means short of invasion is a Sisyphean endeavor. Two quotes from British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan come to mind:
No Middle East leader is so bad that his successor can’t be worse.
When asked about the greatest challenge facing statemen he replied:
Events, my dear boy, events.