The Price of Weakness

As the big sign outside the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 prophetically proclaimed, "America can't do a thing."

We "deplore," we "condemn," of course, "our hearts go out," and "our thoughts are with those...," but when the exhausted- looking Secretary of State or her diffident spokesman "call upon the world..." it is invariably to announce that, in effect, we cannot act. In Libya a deranged tyrant we have forty years' worth of reasons to want to see dead, slaughters his people because he can no longer control them. In the process he creates opportunities for huge mischief by actors who wish us and our friends ill, and yet we must stand by. As the big sign outside the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 prophetically proclaimed, "America can't do a thing,"

The hallmark of a great power is the freedom to act. Whether for good or ill, wisely or unwisely, great powers are those nations that can grasp the opportunity or respond to the threat with swift and decisive action. The United States that was able to rouse itself to lead and sustain a conflict on a hundred fronts after Pearl Harbor, that could mount the Berlin Airlift or the race to the Moon, and finally to exploit the weaknesses of a crumbling tyranny and foster the moral power of an emerging opposition to bring down the Soviet Union, was a great power.

Now we are confronted by a militant anti-western Islamism that threatens to ride to power the popular wave that brought down one proverbial SOB, who at least had the virtue of being our SOB, and threatens others. A murderous thug, who is not our SOB, is cornered, but still killing. The United States, when it was a great  power, would have recognized in this the opportunity to shake up the fearful geopolitical calculus by ourselves acting swiftly to relieve Libyans of Gaddafi and enlisting the aid of the threatened "moderate" oil states to pay for the damages, provide some opportunities for the formerly oppressed that extend beyond raping journalists and blowing themselves up, and thereby earning themselves some needed "Arab Street" creds that might actually help those cowering phony-bearded sybarites survive. Then as William Kristol suggests, the "Arab Spring" might have a fighting chance.

American forces are still technically capable of the job. Whether the resources are available and could be brought to bear in a timely way I do not presume to know. Like Admiral Ernest King, WW II US Chief of Naval Operations, I may not know what logistics are, but I do know we would certainly need some. What can be certain is that most every admiral or general, the careerist who got the third star for his dissertation on diversity and  affirmative action initiatives in late nineteenth-century Austria Hungary, or the warrior, alike, would still say "Yes Sir" and find a way to go. Not one of them, though, could escape in his most private moment the fear that his "kids" fate would be at the mercy of a political leadership with neither the experience, vision, nor moral courage to stand behind those forces and their mission if the going gets tough or things even begin to look bad on TV, much less to manage the grand political strategy.

That nagging doubt, in the capacity of our elites is as much a component of our no longer being a great power as debt, the entitlement crisis, emerging rivals and other material factors.


What is the Obama team's response to this challenge? He has asked for a "full range of options," but as for action: 

" national security team has been working around the clock to monitor the situation there and to coordinate with our international partners about a way forward....I've also asked Secretary Clinton to travel to Geneva on Monday, where a number of foreign ministers will convene for a session of the Human Rights Council. There she'll hold consultations with her counterparts on events throughout the region and continue to ensure that we join with the international community to speak with one voice to the government and the people of Libya..."
Lest anyone forget Libya was elected to this august council in 2010 with what looks  like Obama Administration acquiescence.

"To the shores of Tripoli?' sorry, that takes a great power, or at least one that aspires to be great.
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