Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obama’s Libya speech: selling multilateralism at home and America abroad

Obama takes his time to express himself and irrevocably commit himself politically. He’s been called a follower on healthcare and the deficit and, over the last few weeks, on Libya. However, these three challenges all require co-operation with others—others who like to get attention as well. Managing multi-party relations makes grandstanding counter-productive. Fortunately for Obama the storyteller formally addressing Libya after much of the dust has settled allowed him to bolster his new foreign policy with concrete success on the ground.
Obama has transferred military responsibility to a competent alliance, strengthened a comprehensive economic boycott of Libya and, of more broad importance, turned America into a potential friend rather than an alien fiend amongst young Arabs.
NATO is now accountable for grinding down Kadhafi’s military power and political credibility. NATO may not sound as sexy as “Desert Storm.” However, it is dogged and it is the most successful military alliance of the last two centuries. Lines in the desert may move back and forth for awhile but a stalemate is unlikely.
Obama made it clear that the US and the alliance want to force Kadhafi out of power. The steady application of military and economic pressure should work. It doesn’t really matter whether Kadhafi is insane or wily. No governing machine that has enjoyed and indulged in power for over 40 years can survive for long without large, fresh supplies of cash and reasonable assurance of future personal security. Old favours and sentiment will not for long protect Kadhafi and his inner circle when everyone else’s interests lie elsewhere.
Obama offered a vivid illustration of how pleasant it is to be using force the way others want:   
“Of course, even when we act as part of a coalition, the risks of any military action will be high.  Those risks were realized when one of our planes malfunctioned over Libya.  Yet when one of our airmen parachuted to the ground, in a country whose leader has so often demonized the United States –- in a region that has such a difficult history with our country –- this American did not find enemies.  Instead, he was met by people who embraced him.  One young Libyan who came to his aid said, “We are your friends.  We are so grateful to those men who are protecting the skies.”
Finally, Obama’s more modest approach to the exercise of American power doesn’t seem any longer to be that alien to Americans. Before his speech, The Pew Research Centre found:
Notably, most people do not view the United States as the lead actor in the military operation. Fully 57% say that the United States “is just one of a coalition of countries” involved in the military mission; far fewer (35%) say the United States “is leading the military action.”`

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