- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2011


“Never attribute to conspiracy,” a wise man once said, “what can be explained by incompetence.” Maybe we should cut Barack Obama a little slack.

The president has had a rough few days, though “a rough few days” is every president’s job description. Check out all that presidential white hair, the deep worry lines after the first fortnight following the inaugural balls. Not all that gray in Bill Clinton’s locks was the work of the White House interns, and even Jimmy Carter, who spent a lot of his time figuring out who got to use the White House tennis court, eventually watched his hair turn gray.

Mr. Obama might be bald by now if he had stayed in town while Japan melted, the Middle East blazed into a bonfire and his war in Afghanistan continued to burn with a fine blue flame. Now new accusations (with photographs) of criminal brutality against civilians in Afghanistan have been lodged against American troops. (Or more to the point, brutality against corpses.) Watching a folk dance in Brazil was certainly less stressful than spending time in the War Room, taking only bad news. Since the president was idling in the land of manana, he might have asked Brazil, which longs to be an important player, why it declined to vote with the United States when the United Nations took up the matter of intervening to stop the massacre in Libya. The late education of Barack Obama continues, however slowly.

No one can blame the president for feeling reluctant to get further involved in the permanent quagmire in the land of the pharaohs, prophets and sleazy potentates. Douglas MacArthur, the author of the winning strategy of war in the Pacific and a general who was eager to risk wider war to turn back the Chinese advance in Korea, famously remarked that anyone willing to send an army into Asia “ought to have his head examined.”

But prosecuting a war is for leaders, not psychiatrists. Libya presents the genuine moral quandary that is the lot of the world’s only superpower. It’s up to the Americans to lead, because only the Americans have the ability to make a threat credible. The scope of the hideous brutality of Moammar Gadhafi is without parallel in a world where hideous brutality is commonplace. How could America, “the last best hope of mankind,” stand down its vast military machine while a head of state makes war on his own people, curdling the blood of both the cowardly and the courageous. The mad dog of Arabia vowed that his soldiers would go “house to house, room by room,” with neither pity nor mercy, to save only his sorry self. Curdling blood with empty rhetoric is the usual bluster of Middle Eastern despots; Saddam Hussein promised “the mother of all battles” and in the event settled for the bastard stepchild of all humiliations. But a medal for heroism is easily won when a despot can acquire one for demonstrating manly courage by abusing women and children. No one can doubt Col. Gadhafi’s willingness to decorate his bosom with such evidence of crimes against humanity.

“The only way this crisis will end — the only way we and our allies can achieve our objectives in Libya — is to remove Gadhafi from power,” observes the Weekly Standard, the most unflinching advocate of making Libya safe for democracy.

But it’s both fair and necessary to ask where it ends. There’s no scarcity of brutal despots to discipline and depose. If America saves Libya, how can America say “no” the next time — which will come soon — a despot uses children for target practice? America did not intervene in the equally hideous war between Iran and Iraq two decades ago, when Saddam Hussein used children to clear minefields.

“The president is the commander in chief,” said John Boehner, the leader of the aggressive Republican majority in the House, “but the administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is, to better explain what America’s role is in achieving that mission.” The speaker supports the president from duty, and he only asks the questions a lot of Americans are asking. As terrific as they are, America can only put a finite number of boots on anybody’s ground.

President Obama still holds to a naive faith in the empty promises of the toy nations of the Third World. He’s learning what almost any of us could have told him about embracing an ally from the Arab League.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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