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Friday, March 18, 2011

'Having Cake' Meet 'Eating Cake.'


WHAT SOME OF US KNEW BEFORE THE 2008 ELECTION. This is just too rich (pun intended). From the U.K. comes this pitiful plaint about the Obama administration.

BARACK OBAMA: THE WEAKEST PRESIDENT IN HISTORY?

INEFFECTUAL, invisible, unable to honour pledges and now blamed for letting Gaddafi off the hook. Why Obama’s gone from ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Er, maybe we shouldn’t’...

Let us cast our minds back to those remarkable days in November 2008 when the son of a Kenyan goatherd was elected to the White House. It was a bright new dawn – even brighter than the coming of the Kennedys and their new Camelot. JFK may be considered as being from an ethnic and religious minority – Irish and Catholic – but he was still very rich and very white. Barack Obama, by contrast, was a true breakthrough president. The world would change because obviously America had changed.

Obama’s campaign slogan was mesmerisingly simple and brimming with self-belief: “Yes we can.” His presidency, however, is turning out to be more about “no we won’t.” Even more worryingly, it seems to be very much about: “Maybe we can… do what, exactly?“ The world feels like a dangerous place when leaders are seen to lack certitude but the only thing President Obama seems decisive about is his indecision. What should the US do about Libya? What should the US do about the Middle East in general? What about the country’s crippling debts? What is the US going to do about Afghanistan, about Iran?

What is President Obama doing about anything? The most alarming answer – your guess is as good as mine – is also, frankly, the most accurate one. What the President is not doing is being clear, resolute and pro-active, which is surely a big part of his job description. This is what he has to say about the popular uprising in Libya: “Gaddafi must go.” At least, that was his position on March 3.

Weren't all the most cerebral Brits, in concert with our own intellectual caste, urging, insisting on the election of Barack Obama as a form of redress to a world offended by the Texas cowboy Bush and his bruiser accomplices? uh, yes, they were. So they wound up having the cake that looked so good in the shop window, and now they still have it, but they're not much enjoying the eating:

Every day for almost the last two months our television screens, radio broadcasts and the pages of our newspapers have been filled with the pictures, sounds and words of the most tumultuous events any of us can remember in the Arab world. The outcome of these events, once the dust has settled, could literally change the world. Yet Obama seems content to sit this one out. He has barely engaged in the debate. Such ostrich-like behaviour is not untypical of the 49-year-old President who burst through America’s colour barrier to become the first African-American to occupy the White House.

Although they are eating it, aren't they? Forced to swallow all the crumbs that once looked so sweet and now taste bitter to the tongue. The new line seems to be that he is weak, weak, weak, even though they're still irate about the things Bush did that were strong, and even more so about the Obama retention of those Bush things:

Two days after taking office in January 2009, he pledged to close down the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, which has become notorious for holding detainees for years without trial. Obama promised to lose the prison within 12 months and to abolish the practice of military trials of terrorism suspects. It was an important promise. America’s reputation had been severely tarnished by revelations about the conditions at Guantanamo, by reports of waterboarding and extraordinary rendition (transporting prisoners to a third country for torture) and by the appalling treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Closing Guantanamo was a redemptive gesture. Two years on, not only is the prison still in use but its future is as assured as ever. Ten days ago, the President signed an executive order reinstating the military commissions at the island prison. Human rights organisations were outraged. “With the stroke of a pen, President Obama extinguished any lingering hope that his administration would return the United States to the rule of law,” said Amnesty International while Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, declared the President’s action to be “unlawful, unwise and un-American.”

White House spokesmen insisted the President was still committed to closing Guantanamo, which currently has 172 detainees in custody. It was Congress, they said, that had refused to sanction the transfer of the prisoners to the US mainland for trial, leaving no option but to keep the prison open in Cuba. Very little has been achieved in the quest to secure peace in the Middle East. Under Obama, US foreign policy is founded on extreme caution. At first this cool-headedness was a welcome change from the naked aggression of George W Bush and his henchmen Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

At first. But then it became downright inconvenient. The Brits, and the world generally, ALL want to have their cake and eat it too. They want the U.S. as a punching bag, an automatic target of blame for everything that goes wrong or hurts their feelings in any way, but they also want the U.S. to bail them out of every tough situation, sacrifice our blood and treasure on their behalf with no expectation of anything in return, indeed without even mentioning it. They want us to be their fix-everything daddy while they get to play the part of the spoiled, ungrateful teenage girl who denounces every stern daddy response as unfair and despicable. How dare we now appear to be acceding to their desires and abandoning them to the natural forces we've spent more than half a century protecting them from?

It is also true that the President is constantly stymied by a hostile, Republican-ruled Congress. [Give me a break: Stymied for three months now in half of congress? Please.]  But Obama’s apparent reluctance to engage with momentous events is starting to look like more than aloofness. Some tempering of America’s role as the world’s No1 busybody may be no bad thing but under Obama the US appears to be heading towards isolationism. He is hardly doing much better at home. Economically, the US is in big trouble but the national debt is not shrinking.

Got it. The conservatives who have consistently kept the U.S. engaged actively on the world scene and want to forestall U.S. bankruptcy are still the evil ones, but please -- please, please, please -- don't cut us off and leave us alone with all those other evil ones.

Two thoughts.

Screw the Brits and other Europeans who've been living under our roof all these years with their sullen demands and cast iron contempt for who we are and what we've done for them.

And maybe, just maybe, Obama is presently proving a point that couldn't be proven in any other way. The daddy who spends all his time apologizing to bratty kids really isn't much good for anything else, is he?

Is he?

How high a price will it be worth it to pay for the world to learn this lesson?

Just don't expect Obama to answer that particular question. He's busy in Rio for the next few days. Then there's the Final Four... And we'll have to get back to y'all later. Much later.







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