George W. Bush promised us a humble foreign policy. With Barack Obama, we have one. It puts me in mind of Winston Churchill’s famous aphorism about Clement Atlee: “Mr. Attlee is a very modest man. Indeed he has a lot to be modest about.” Mr. Obama seems to think we have a lot to be humble about when it comes to foreign policy.
I’m not going to rehearse the many frustrations that accompanied his first year, with the apology tours and all that. There’s plenty to grouse about just within the last few months, when the world was crying out for American leadership and found instead the big Baby Huey standing in the middle of the pack waiting to go along with the crowd when it finally decided which way the world was going to turn.
Obama seems completely unwilling to take the lead on the crisis issues of the day. Rather, he sits back until the the issue is nearly decided and then jumps on board. When Ahmadinejad stole Iran’s elections last year and the idealists of the Green Revolution filled the streets, Obama weighed his (completely unsubstantiated) hopes for a nuclear deal with the rulers against America’s duty toward democracy and decided to give soft lip service to the protesters but precious little actual support. When the Basij met them with brutality and the revolt was squelched – at least temporarily – Obama uttered nary a peep of condemnation as he quietly returned to his fruitless negotiations.
With Egypt, again there was equivocation at first, even to the point of near-incoherence (Secretary of State Clinton’s rapidly-evolving formulations were a sight to behold). Then, when it became abundantly clear that the army was not going to do battle against unarmed protesters to protect the Mubarak regime, the administration started agitating for his departure.
But it is with Libya that the Obama administration’s flaccid foreign policy stands in starkest contrast to those of our allies and even rivals.
Early on, Germany, France, and the UK condemned the violence against the Libyan protesters, and even Libyan diplomats abandoned their leader in capitals around the world. Libyan pilots defected rather than fire on their own civilians. And the US was managing its words carefully, escalating its rhetoric with developments but careful not to get out in front.
Then, as the government’s aerial assault on its own citizens demonstrated to the world the depravity of the Gaddafi regime, we sent an urgent emissary to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva (which, by the way, has counted Libya as not only a member but a recent president, and if that is not sufficient illustration of the moral bankruptcy of the UN, I can’t imagine one).
Meanwhile, the thousands of expatriates from countries as varied as China, Turkey, and the US who were in Libya to work in the oil industry became increasingly desperate for escape. Here, you would think, is where the vaunted US military would extend its global reach and set the standard for the world to follow.
Instead, we chartered a small ferry, the Maria Dolores, which proved to be too small and light to travel in the choppy Mediterranean waters, so hundreds of our citizens sat trapped, hungry and unwashed for two days until the seas calmed enough for the escape to Malta. Meanwhile, thousands of Greek and Turkish workers escaped on larger, more capable ferries.
And as I read accounts like this, I wondered, where is the Sixth Fleet? The US Navy is supposed to command the seas, but they apparently have been holding back – as their Commander-in-Chief has been – to see what develops. Meanwhile, the British Navy had at least two warships in the area, and the RAF even sent a secret mission into the desert to rescue hundreds of stranded Brits.
But it was China, who had some thirty thousand of its nationals at risk in Libya, that really set the bar for rapid, co-ordinated rescue. By land, sea, and air, and including deployment of the frigate Xuzhou of the PLA’s Navy to provide cover, they showed remarkable swiftness, organization, and decisiveness, and within days had pulled over 29,000 of their citizens out of harm’s way.
President Obama could not have chosen a more vivid demonstration of America’s new national modesty.
At the same time, global markets reacted to the turmoil in Libya, which produces about 5% of the world’s oil daily. The price of oil shot up over $100 a barrel briefly, and here in the heartland, the price of a gallon of regular gasoline hovers in the upper half of the $3-4 range.
It’s another illustration of this president’s policies having a predictable impact: with drilling offshore limited (even after the supposed end of the Gulf drilling moratorium the administration has yet to issue a new drilling permit), and other US sources, such as ANWAR, off-limits, we are as vulnerable as ever to the turmoil in the Middle East. And with the wave of revolutions that seem to be taking root against the ranks of the autocrats that span the region, there could be more threats ahead to the petroleum market and higher prices in the future.
Of course, that would probably suit Mr. Obama, even if it means the economy could tip back into recession. After all, his “green” energy strategy rests at its base on the price of more conventional energies going higher so as to make solar and wind energy appear more competitive by comparison. Whether that is achieved by tumult at the Arabian well-head or by EPA fiat, the result is the same, and we are on our way to a green future.
One could wish for a little modesty on that score.