The 3 a.m. phone call finally came, and who was there to pick it up, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? The answer: Nicolas Sarkozy. A headline in today’s New York Times says it all: “Libya Calls Cease-Fire After Britain and France Vow Action ‘Soon.’” Well, almost all. The teaser gives some important color: “America’s role was unclear.”
Libyans rang up Washington mid-slaughter to find call-forwarding had been activated. In Paris, President Sarkozy took the lead with courage and purpose. He became the first international head of state to recognize the legitimacy of the Libyan opposition. Then he rallied international support for military intervention in hopes of halting a dictator who had turned his war apparatus against his human property.
The U.S. response to this noble effort? In Sec. Clinton’s words, “There are difficulties.” Exactly which administration doctrine does that brave and thoughtful declaration represent? Smart Power? Winning the Future? I know — it must be Restoring America’s Standing in the World. The G8 foreign ministers who heard it left the meeting in Paris this week “completely puzzled” about American intentions and priorities.
But what was so puzzling? The world hardly needs any more evidence that Barack Obama believes in the virtue of a disinterested and semi-retired American superpower. Fortunately, however, Hillary Clinton believes in Hillary Clinton. Finding herself attached to a calamitous and indefensible policy, she needed out. Instead of going down with the ship, she went rogue. First, “Clinton insiders” leaked against the White House. Then Hillary went full-hawk, saying that Muammar Qaddafi’s irrational and violent nature left the U.S. no choice but to support potential military action against him. “There are some creatures that are like that.”
Indeed there are, which seems to come as a shock to the Obama administration. America has a global responsibility, and it’s not to enforce the undergraduate code of political correctness and cultural relativism. It is doubtful that the world’s Muslims sleep more soundly knowing that the American president can approvingly cite a few Arab and Persian poets. That didn’t seem to matter to the young Egyptian democrats who snubbed Clinton in Cairo last month “based on her negative position from the beginning of the revolution and the position of the US administration in the Middle East,” or to the Libyan rebels who said Qaddafi’s triumph “will be on the international community’s conscience,” or to the Iranian protesters who in June of 2009 asked of Barack Obama, “Are you with us or with the regime?” America’s global responsibility is to act, when it can, to safeguard human rights against “creatures” like Qaddafi.
Thanks to France and Britain, the UN Security Council has approved military action in pursuit of that goal. Getting the UN to agree to act concretely against a dictator is no small feat, and the credit will not go to the American president who had vowed to make more effective use of multilateral institutions. He spent weeks pontificating on the inevitably just “arc of history,” while European leaders understood that history doesn’t bend of its own will. America will now contribute to any effort that is undertaken, and that is as it should be.
Is the cease-fire real? Doubtful. Is it too late to move against Qaddafi? Let us hope not. For if his reign somehow continues on the other side of this episode, the U.S. will have lost a generation’s worth of Muslim goodwill and a critical battle in the fight for liberty in the Middle East. There is another recent New York Times headline that seems rather dispositive at the moment: “Bullets Stall Youthful Push for Arab Spring.” Arab youths were stalled by bullets. What’s our excuse?