I was right to worry about what the president might do to demonstrate his virility on the international stage, and the confusion surrounding just about everything having to do with the Libya thing certainly proves that. But I had underestimated this administration’s misreading of the situation, and they have dragged most of the pundits along with them, to such an extent that it’s nearly impossible to see Libya in context. That’s not unusual or even surprising. When Egypt happened, it was all about Egypt. When Tunisia happened, that was the lone subject for analysis. And now it’s all Libya, all the time.
But it’s not about Libya. It’s about the big war in which we are involved. That war extends from Somalia to the Persian Gulf, from Sudan into Egypt, and thence to Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, and across North Africa. It reaches South and Central America, and some of its footsoldiers are undoubtedly on our soil. The tensions and passions involved in that war have turned many of those countries into battlefields, and since we have refused to see the war for what it is, we do not have a clear picture of the fighters, nor even a reliable way to anticipate future events. And the hell of it is that we have been in a position to benefit enormously from this war, but instead we find that we might “win” in Libya (topple Qadaffi, empower the “rebels,” launch the usual cycle of new constitution, new elections and new government) and utterly lose the day, as enemies even more virulent than the colorful colonel of Tripoli take over.
We have to win the big war. Decisions about Libya should be subordinate to a serious big war strategy, which in turn should be aimed against our main enemies. Regime change in Tripoli is a worthy objective, but it’s not a crucial strategic mission. We should want regime change in Syria and Iran.
There are lots of reasons to criticize Obama for the Libya thing, but the most important is never mentioned: it’s the wrong battlefield. The battlefields that will determine the outcome of the big war are Tehran and Damascus, and there are ongoing battles on both. We could make a decisive difference, without bombing anything, without risking any American lives, just by giving political and perhaps some financial and technological support to the Iranian and Syrian rebellions. The tyrannical regimes are hollow, the people have demonstrated great courage, and if — as I keep hearing — we have gone to war in Libya in support of people who are fighting for their freedom against evil dictators, all the more reason to support the Iranians and Syrians, who are fighting against killers of even more Americans than Qadaffi has killed.
I don’t think that Obama and his three Valkyries (Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power) see the big war plain, but I hope they see the logic according to which if-it’s-right-to-defend-Libyans-it’s-even-more-right-to-defend-Iranians-and-Syrians. There is one pretty straw in the wind: Obama’s video to the Iranian people on the occasion of the Norooz holiday. “I am with you,” he said to young Iranians fighting their evil regime. No more outstretched hand, it seems.
It isn’t a pretty moment, but as we all know, it’s better to be lucky than to be smart. If, through the confused underbrush of mushy internationalism and humanitarian interventionism we arrive at a decision to finally challenge our main enemies, I’ll take it. If we get an end to the reign of the fanatics in Damascus and Tehran, the whole world will change, decidedly for the better.
Valkyries! If we could bring down the Soviet Empire without bombing Leningrad, we can surely bring down the hollow tyrannies of our mortal enemies in the Middle East in a similar manner. Khamenei’s Islamic Republic is even more fragile than Gorbachev’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
If, on the other hand, we’re doing the Libya thing because our leader wants to show the world that he’s fully capable of dropping bombs on a madman with oil, then the world will get decidedly grimmer.
Obama! Now that your brackets have been busted (yes, I was at the Verizon Center when little Butler brought down big bad Pitt), play in the big leagues. We’re America, we dream big dreams, we can change the world. You’ll love it. But go for the big win, go for victory in the big war, the real war. The little places will become oh so much easier.