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March 05, 2011
Obama’s Dithering
By Keith Riler
There “is a corollary to the conception of being too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the fighting.[1]” Another corollary is that those too proud to fight are often cowards.

The New Republic is surprised and bothered by the President’s dithering over Iran, Egypt and Libya. That bastion of all things liberal observed that Barack Obama’s

…diffidence about humanitarian emergencies is one of the most mystifying features of his presidency, and one of its salient characteristics….We disappointed Tehran. We disappointed Cairo. Now we are disappointing Tripoli. It is so foolish, and so sad, and so indecent.

It is also to be expected. TNR’s surprise is suspect and probably disingenuous, given that in his book Terror and Liberalism, TNR’s own Paul Berman traces liberal naiveté and cowardice through most atrocities of the last century:

In the 1930s, good-hearted liberals sneered at the ashen-faced witnesses who reported that Stalin was starving the Ukrainian farmers.[2] …And, having analyzed the German scene in that manner, the anti-war Socialists concluded that Hitler and the Nazis…did make some legitimate arguments-even if Nazism came from the extreme right and was not at all to the Socialists’ taste.[3]

At Auschwitz the SS said, ‘Here there is no why.’ The anti-war Socialists … believed no such thing. In their eyes, there was always a why[4].

The truth is that “barbarism and civilization have always dwelt side by side in the world[5].” This is a fact with which liberalism unsuccessfully struggles, given its mania for evolution and linear progress, and its tendency for chronological snobbery. As a result, more often than not, liberalism’s blind faith in rationality and its resulting denial preclude moral action, particularly in situations demanding courage.

During the years of Nazi triumph, Sweden and Switzerland played roles that were, all in all, contemptible….Entire Polish cities fought virtually to the last man so that Sweden and Switzerland could go on perfecting their social systems.[6]

Berman further bolsters his case with Europe’s more recent response to Serb ethnic cleansing:

The Europeans who declined to lift a finger against the Serb nationalists in the 1990s naturally pictured themselves as something other than base, cowardly, greedy, and self-absorbed….who, in their worldliness, cannot be shocked, therefore cannot be motivated to do anything about being shocked. Those attitudes were, in fact, base, cowardly, greedy, and self-absorbed, apart from being antique.[7]

We, of course, know the end of the Serb story. The Europeans applied to the UN, stood around with their arm bands and permitted the Srebrenica massacre. Finally, like the humble Poles before, the American military stepped in with moral clarity and courage and solved the problem.

In his book, Berman highlights Noam Chomsky’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks as liberalism’s most recent moral failure. Of Chomsky, Berman says:

He was unfazed. The entire purpose of his political outlook was to be unfazed, even by the worst horrors. He knew exactly what to say. The notion that…a mass movement of radical Islamists had arisen, devoted to mad hatreds and conspiracy theories…was, from Chomsky’s perspective, not even worth discussing. …He knew the answer. The attacks on 9/11 represented the reply of oppressed people from the Third World to centuries of American depredations. The attacks represented…self defense.[8]

In the case of Libya, TNR accuses President Obama of behavior that happens to be identical to that of the cowardly, self-absorbed and arm-banded Europeans of the Serbian story:

But the president is not yet interested in action. His outrage seems to be satisfied by “consultations” with our “allies and partners,” and with the Human Rights Council in Geneva next Monday. Yes, next Monday: what’s the rush? The main point of Obama’s statement on Libya was that “the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice,” and that “we join with the international community to speak with one voice.” He is calling for words! He actually said that “the whole world is watching,” that foul old slogan of the bystander.

There are also Chomsky-Obama parallels. TNR suggests that the President’s imperialism concerns are irrational and misdirected:

They [Libya’s opposition fighters] are fighting authoritarianism, but he [Obama] is fighting imperialism. Who in their right mind believes that this change [Libya’s revolution] does represent the work of the United States or any foreign power?

In its stupidity, cowardice, self-loathing and lack of moral clarity, Obama’s reflexive assumption of the guilt of imperialism is the same as Chomsky’s blaming the attacks of 9/11 on America.

Peter Wehner explains in his recent article entitled Barack Obama’s Moral Concession to Evil,

… the leaders of nations far less powerful than the United States, many with large expatriate populations in Libya, took much more forceful (and much earlier) stances against Qaddafi than did Obama. The president was the last major Western leader to speak up on Libya…. He showed weakness, irresolution, fear. I wonder if people have focused on just how troubling this action, and the mindset it manifests, really is.

“Receive those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” – Prov 24:11.

The Wall Street Journal has asked, “What is Mr. Obama waiting for?” It is a good question. As TNR points out, there are a number of straightforward courses of action the President might have already pursued, including a no fly zone to protect the innocent Libyan population or deployment of a humanitarian expeditionary force into Tripoli.

Unfortunately, the answer to the WSJ’s question is nothing. The President is not waiting on a thing. He is a coward from the long line of cowards described by Berman. These cowards make things complex to hide from the demands of moral responsibility and believe “It depends” or “It’s complicated” are acceptable answers. Doubt this? See the blatant shiftiness in the Administration’s latest lame excuse for inaction — that some websites might characterize any definitive action as a grab for Libyan oil.

Dithering and a lack of moral clarity are signatures of international liberalism, a philosophy trapped by an ever shifting moral relativism and hamstrung by the vanity of affected complexity. TNR’s own Paul Berman hit the nail on the head years ago. There is no surprise here.

What may now bother The New Republic is that the United States, the moral trough from which parasitic international liberalism has fed for all these years, has apparently been commandeered by just such a liberal. Without the traditional moral clarity and courage of the US, international liberalism confronts a responsibility it is unequipped to handle. TNR is pining for a responsible man. Unfortunately, that’s not who we elected. At least The New Republic noticed.
[1] G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, page 129.

[2] Terror and Liberalism, page 123.

[3] Terror and Liberalism, page 125.

[4] Terror and Liberalism, page 126.

[5] G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, page 63.

[6] Terror and Liberalism, page 167.

[7] Terror and Liberalism, page 167.

[8] Terror and Liberalism, page 151.

March 2011