Saturday, March 12, 2011

Obama and Eisenhower

There is a civil war going on in Libya. Egypt is relatively quiet for the moment, but disturbing questions are starting to be asked about the military's commitment to elections. Japan has just undergone a massive 8.9 earthquake, followed by tsunami, and now looks to undergo a possible meltdown at two of its nuclear facilities. Along with all this, there is an economic recovery that is barely producing any jobs, a massive debate over the future of public employee unions in America, and don't forget there are soldiers fighting for us in Afghanistan.

So where is President Obama? He's playing a round of golf. Again.

Now before we.. I... condemn him too quickly for playing another round of golf, let's take a step back and look at the original Golfer-in-Chief: President Dwight David Eisenhower.

According to records, President Eisenhower played golf on average twice a week while in office. He was known to shoot 3 holes before breakfast when he was leading the liberation of Europe during the Second World War.

But then, maybe President Eisenhower earned the right to go hit the golf balls twice a week while president. As president, he quietly had a list of accomplishments which, if you put them in the context of his time, were pretty impressive.
When it came to civil rights,
  • He appointed judges and got them passed despite fierce opposition from Southern Conservatives who saw those appointees as an attack on segregation and Jim Crow laws. 
  • He got Congress to pass the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Sure, it was not as strong as the law he originally hoped would pass, but it was the first step by any U.S. president to redress the problems of equality in eight decades. 
  • He appointed officials who desegregated Washington D.C. 
In other areas,
  • He met the challenge of posed by the Soviet launch of Sputnik by revamping and updating the way we went about teaching students with the National Defense Education Act. 
  • He helped establish a foundation that would prove to be invaluable for the advancement of science and technology by authorizing the creation of NASA and DARPA
  • He pushed for the creation of the Interstate Highway System. 
He was no slouch when it came to foreign policy, national defense, or the economy:
  • He got a cease fire signed to end the fighting in the Korean War. More than 50 years later, that cease-fire still holds. 
  • He ended the Suez Crisis by refusing to give France and Great Britain carte blanche in Egypt and using economic power to stop the military campaign in order to prevent Soviet intervention there. 
  • Oversaw possibly the most successful U.S. peacekeeping mission when he ordered troops to Lebanon as part of Operation Blue Bat to prevent the overthrow of Lebanese government. 
  • He kept the national debt low and held inflation to almost zero. 
  • He refused to become actively involved in Vietnam, despite French pleas for a ground commitment from the US. 
  • He completed the process of desegregating the U.S. Armed forces. 
Did I mention he probably also suffered from Crohn's Disease, had a heart attack while in office, and a stroke to boot?

Not everything that Eisenhower did was perfect. He made mistakes. One of the greatest was his failure to help the Hungarian rebellion. Another was his decision to force Britain and France to stop their reconquest of the Suez Canal. But when something needed to be done, he took action.

Meanwhile, we have President Obama. During his term of office, he has managed to do the following:
  • Pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Unemployment hovered near 10% nationwide, only dipping to 8.9% two years after its passage. 
  • Passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Health Care and Education Reconcilliation Act of 2010. Together, these two acts make up healthcare reform. Healthcare insurance costs became more unaffordable. 
  • Passed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009. 
  • Closed Guantanamo prison and took the enemy combatants captured out of the legal limbo which they existed. 
  • Took a stand against dictators who oppressed their citizens. 
  • Used his office to help effect peaceful change in the world. 
  • Helped to end the U.S.'s dependence on oil from unstable/unsavory sources. 
  • Ended DOMA. 
  • Held a conference on Bullying
  • Repeatedly promised he would stop smoking. 

Ok. So the last one was a little petty, but then again, President Eisenhower went cold turkey and quit a 4 pack a day habit.

When there was a crisis, Eisenhower lead. Sometimes it was by showing that he was not concerned about the problem, that it would not hold him hostage. However, he took action.

Conversely, Obama has talked a big game about what he would do as president. How he would deploy smart diplomacy to deal with emerging threats around the globe and all sorts of other promises.

However, when push came to shove, Obama did not live up to the moment when it came in the Middle East. In Egypt, he dithered. He sent confusing messages. At one point he seemed to back Mubarak. At another he seemed to back the protest movement. But only after events outraced his press releases, did the Obama Administration finally take a stand. Sort of.

The problems in the Middle East are still not over. In Libya, there is a civil war going on between Gaddafi's ruling gang and the rebels. Right now, it appears that the rebels, after some initial successes and defections from Gaddafi's forces, are losing. What has the U.S. response been? He directed the Secretary of State to consult with U.N. Human Rights Council over possible human rights violations as the conflict began. He refused, initially, to deploy the US Fleet to evacuate U.S. and foreign nationals from Libya, preferring to have the State Department charter two ferries, which were delayed for days as they were not capable of sailing through the Mediterranean Sea to Libya from Malta in inclement weather.

Meanwhile, France, Britain, even the Arab League (with its long history of supporting Arab dictators) have all scrambled to do something about what is going on in Libya. Even though their armed forces have been recently gutted by a massive cuts to their Budget, Britain ordered its special forces to rescue trapped workers. Prime Minister Cameron has worked to try and organize a no-fly zone over Libya to support the rebels. French President Sarkozy has recognized the rebel government in Benghazi.

President Obama's response was to issue the following statement:

We welcome this important step by the Arab League, which strengthens the international pressure on Gaddafi and support for the Libyan people. The international community is unified in sending a clear message that the violence in Libya must stop, and that the Gaddafi regime must be held accountable. The United States will continue to advance our efforts to pressure Gaddafi, to support the Libyan opposition, and to prepare for all contingencies, in close coordination with our international partners.

That is who we elected? A man who professes to believe in human rights, democracy, and freedom, but is unwilling to come out and state simply that Gaddafi/Mubarak/Name-your-oppressive-dictator must go?

Somewhere along the way, it appears that while playing golf, President Obama has forgotten whose office he sits in. In his most explicit statement on Libya, Obama stated,
The United States also strongly supports the universal rights of the Libyan people. That includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech, and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. They are not negotiable. They must be respected in every country. And they cannot be denied through violence or suppression.

In a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice, and that has been our focus. Yesterday a unanimous U.N. Security Council sent a clear message that it condemns the violence in Libya, supports accountability for the perpetrators, and stands with the Libyan people.
He deplores the violence, but will not call for the change which is necessary to end the violence. He makes a statement that is inoffensive to all, but helps none. He decries the abuses of universal human rights, but does not state that the United States categorically rejects the depredations of Gaddafi. He does not call for him to relinquish power. He does not state that we will do anything to help them, other than to issue another press release at the appropriate time. Why? Because he is hoping that the UN will speak with the "one voice".

Hoping for salvation from the UN is a sure way to see yourself destroyed. Ask the people of Bosnia how well UN intervention worked for them. Or the people in Israel when the rockets fell on them from Lebanon. Or the Ivory Coast. Or the Congo. Or ... well you get the idea.

Yesterday, when asked at a press conference point blank whether Gaddafi retaining power was accetable, President Obama answered by stating
Going back to the Gadhafi question, you know, when you say, "Is it ever acceptable?" I mean, what I think what you're asking is, you know, are we going to do -- engage in any potential military action to make that happen?

When it comes to U.S. military actions, whether it's a no-fly zone or other -- other options, you've got to balance costs vs. benefits. And, you know, I don't take those decisions lightly.
A follow-up question was asked about this, specifically pointing out claims by the Gaddafi regime that he was winning the fight against the rebels and what the U.S. response was. Obama responded by stating,
I continue to believe that, not only the United States, but the international community, has an obligation to do what it can to prevent a repeat of something like what occurred in the Balkans in the '90s, what occurred in Rwanda. 
And so, part of, for example, maintaining 24-hour surveillance of the situation there is for us to have some sort of alert system if you start seeing defenseless civilians who were being massacred by Gadhafi's forces. 
I believe that Gadhafi is on the wrong side of history. I believe that the Libyan people are anxious for freedom and the removal of somebody who has suppressed them for decades now.
And we are going to be in contact with the opposition, as well as in consultation with the international community, to try to achieve the goal of Mr. Gadhafi being removed from power.
So essentially, the Administration's, Obama's, policy is that we will consult with others and hope that someone else does the job. No call for his removal. No statement that we would do anything other than observe the situation while the "international community" does something about the problem.
Let me clue you into something. Unless the United States intervenes, it is unlikely that anything will get done. Why? Because for better for worse, it is this country that alone has the ability to project power effectively anywhere on the globe. The Chinese do not have that ability yet. The Russians lost that ability. Since 1945, this nation has been the only one with the ability to effectively intervene at any spot, in any crisis. Sometimes we have done so. Sometime we have chosen not to. And sometimes, against our better nature, we have chosen to intervene on the wrong side for the sake of Cold War-expediency.

This may very well go down as one of those moments in history when a choice could decide whether a people would remain in bondage or would be helped to freedom. And President Obama seems content to allow them to be placed back into the shackles of oppression.

In 1956, Eisenhower was confronted with a similar situation. In fact, it might have even been trickier because of the other factors which affected it. In October 1956, the Hungarian people began a revolution against the Soviet-backed Communist dictatorship. Although there were initial successes, the Soviet Union eventually stepped in, deploying 22 divisions to bring the country back into order.

Eisenhower supported the revolution, but did not do it in concrete terms. He instructed Radio Free Europe to broadcast propoganda and advice to the rebels. Yet, at the same time he was diplomatically opposing the Soviet-intervention, he had to deal with the problem of another intervention in the Middle East which undercut his ability to be more forceful with the Russian intervention. Furthermore, there was the very real chance that to offer concrete support for Hungary would spark a Third World War with the Soviet Union.

In this instance, there is the nation of Libya, which has been governed for far too long by a repressive regime under Colonel Gaddafi. It has sponsored terrorism. It has launched wars of aggression with its neighbors. It is not in the midst of a bloody civil war that began because Gaddafi chose to use violence against what has been reported as peaceful protests. Libya is alone. Libya is isolated. There is no Russian bear acting as her guarantor. Indeed, it is highly probable that even Al Qaeda would not send its jihadists to prop up Gaddafi's cult of personality regime.

Yet we do nothing. Our president does nothing. And we fail in our test.

Presidents do not have to be perfect in their response. But they have to respond. Eisenhower responded to Hungary to limit of the ability of the United States to do so without triggering a what would have become a nuclear war. President Obama has chosen to do nothing while he shoots a round of 18 at Andrews Air Force Base.
The other thing that seems to differentiate President Obama from our previous presidents is that he seems to have no moral compass. There is nothing that seems to outrage him. Agree or disagree with President Bush, but you knew exactly where he stood on whether something was right or wrong. President Eisenhower was clear where he thought this country should go. He believed that the government should stay out of the market as much as possible, but accepted that there were certain, defined exceptions to this rule. A man who had built his reputation in war tried to put our nation on a road to peace with the Soviet Union, but not at the expense of the hazarding our safety in the process. The best that President Obama can say is that someone is "on the wrong side of history". The same could be said for the Africans who were enslaved and sent to all parts of the world as part of the slave trade. It does not make the slave trade right. It does not excuse us from acting as a nation to help the oppressed when we can because "history" will take care of the problem for us. 

What a president has to do is to act. Eisenhower understood that. He may have played his cards close to the vest, but at the end of the day, you could follow a line to see the action which he took. The same cannot be said for President Obama.

No comments: