Obama’s ‘internationalist’ approach has failed

Daniel Henninger at The Wall Street Journal writes a harsh obituary for the internationalist school of dealing with foreign crises. Time and place of death: March 2011, Libya:

Not the 28 members of NATO, not the 15-member U.N. Security Council, not the 22 nations of the Arab League could save Libya’s rebels from being obliterated by the mad and murderous Moammar Gadhafi. The world has just watched the collapse of internationalism.

The world’s self-professed keepers of international order, from Brussels to Turtle Bay, huffed and puffed, talked and threatened. And they failed. Utterly.

But what we’ve watched is not merely the failure of the gauzy notion of “internationalism.” It’s more specific than that. What has collapsed here is the modern Democratic Party’s new foreign-policy establishment.

Barack Obama is the first Democratic president to assemble a foreign-policy team made up entirely of intellectuals who for years have developed a counter-thesis to the policies of presidents extending back to John F. Kennedy. We are in a “post-American world,” they have argued, in which the U.S. is obliged to pursue its interests in concert with the rest of the world’s powers, never alone.

The uprisings against autocracies in 10 separate Middle Eastern countries, a crisis inherited from no one, was their real-world test. In Egypt, they fumbled. In Libya, they have failed.

The poster boy for this internationalist view is White House deputy Ben Rhodes, who told a reporter last week: “This is the Obama conception of the U.S. role in the world — to work through multilateral organizations and bilateral relationships to make sure that the steps we are taking are amplified.”

Days later, bemused Libyan rebel spokesman Essam Gheriani remarked in Benghazi: “Everyone here is puzzled as to how many casualties the international community judges to be enough for them to help. Maybe we should start committing suicide to reach the required number.”

The piece is for subscribers only, but the rest of it is well worth reading if you can access it.

There are no simple alternatives to President Obama’s approach — one can hardly call it a strategy — with Libya. A no-fly zone would not have been without some risk, although it’s hard to imagine that the Libyan air force could really mount a threat that would greatly outweigh the benefits such action would have brought the rebels.

But the point today is not so much that Obama took one action when he should have taken another; it’s a little late for that. It’s more about whether Obama’s alternative model for dealing with these crises works. As Henninger so starkly explains, it hasn’t.

And Libya is not the first failure. In the first Gulf War, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and in Afghanistan — the supposed “good” wars — the “international community” only stepped forward when America led. Henninger calls Libya the “first test” of the model when America doesn’t eventually step forward, but I’d disagree. In Darfur and in Congo, to name two places, we went along with the internationalist approach — while hundreds of thousands of people died.

This is not a plea for Team America: World Police, with U.S. soldiers going hither and yon every time some tinpot dictator gets cranky or worse. We have every right to expect our allies to commit and contribute along with us if they are going to lecture the world (and us) about peace and human rights. But evidently we cannot reasonably expect them to do so when we are noncommittal — if “noncommittal” is what you can really call it when the U.S. president says repeatedly that the leader of another country must step down and then does nothing of consequence to follow through.

As Henninger explains,

what we have seen [with Libya] is that a world in which the U.S. doesn’t unmistakably lead is a world that spins its wheels, and eventually the wheels start to come off. When the U.S. instructs the Saudis not to intervene in Bahrain, and the Saudi army does precisely the opposite, the wheels are coming off the international order.

America has been leading unmistakably for the better part of a century now. If you think we can’t afford the price of doing so anymore, whether in blood or treasure, fine. But no responsible leader, on his way out, can pretend that things will run smoothly on their own after he leaves. And no responsible leader drops the reins and merely hopes someone else will pick them up.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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200 comments Add your comment

@@

March 17th, 2011
11:15 am

With Obama it’s always been the “words matter” approach. No actions on foreign policy are necessary.

He has been, for me, at least, the most frustrating “leader” I’ve ever witnessed. He’s so-o-o-ooo detached from the world around him.

I often picture him getting up in the morning, going to his mirror and asking…”Mirror, mirror, on the wall…whose the greatest of them all?”

To which his reflection replies “Why you are, Mr. President, but then you already knew that.”

The world around him is but a distraction. A child playing the part of president is what we have.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 17th, 2011
11:22 am

The Western World and the Arab League talk a good game but that’s as far as it goes. The lesson to people fighting for a change, anywhere in the World is, you’re going to have to do it on your own. Don’t expect help from anybody.

MC

March 17th, 2011
11:24 am

So what do you suggest Kye. A couple more wars that can’t be won? Duhhhhh!!

MC

March 17th, 2011
11:25 am

Isn’t staying out of the affairs of other nations a TRUE conservative core belief?

Wyle Kingfield

March 17th, 2011
11:28 am

We should have put in McCain and Palin and we would be in the land of milk and honey right now. We would have a tax cut that would support vouchers, another war and we would be gushing in oil from ANWAR. Gas would be a quarter a gallon. Only problem, I would have nothing to write about and be out of a job.

Guy Incognito

March 17th, 2011
11:34 am

@MC
Look, your Comunity Organizer n Chief is getting ready to start another war

“White House Asks U.N. to Approve Strikes on Libya
URGENT: Obama administration seeking U.N. authorization for wide range of strikes on Qaddafi’s regime”

jconservative

March 17th, 2011
11:36 am

Wow!

Republicans have been asking for decades why America always has to do “it” alone.

Now someone has refused to do “it” alone and Republicans are crying real tears.

For decades Democrats have deservedly had the title of the party that starts wars, WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Bosnia, Kosovo. Remember Bob Dole blasting the idea of nation building?

Then Bush 43 invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and military adventures became not only accepted but relished. Nation Building became the “IN” thing to do. Now it is the Republicans who want to lay claim to the party that starts wars. So be it.

If the Arab League wants to vote to have a no fly zone, which they did, why did they not send in “Arab League” air forces to enforce a no fly zone? Egypt, with the best air force among the Arab nations, is right next door. An Arab League enforced no fly zone could have been launched from Egyptian bases.

Now if my fellow citizens want to reinstate the mandatory military draft and go back to the good old days, have at it.

The good old days. Yeah, I remember! Reagan putting his tail between
his legs and slinking out of Lebanon after 241 marines were killed. The good old days!

Gm

March 17th, 2011
11:37 am

Let see, we should go remove libya leader and get 4500 more American troops kill like Bush did.
Thank God we have a smart not rush to judge ment President, and not trying to be macho and get our troops killed.

MC

March 17th, 2011
11:40 am

Barry Goldwater was a TRUE conservative. If one compared Obama’s foreign policy to these neoconned republicans, I wonder who Goldwater would finger as the conservative? The hands off guy or the crowd that never saw a war they didn’t want to fight even when they know they can’t win?

MC

March 17th, 2011
11:41 am

Chicken Hawk republicans are the real budget busters in this country. Wars cost.

@@

March 17th, 2011
11:42 am

Although Iraq may have ended in a ground war, there’s no reason to believe implementing a no-fly zone in Libya would end up the same way. A no-fly zone existed over Iraq between 1992 until 2003.

The Libyan people (protesters) are being outgunned by an oppressive regime. Quaddafi doesn’t see individual life as sovereign. So why should we give a second thought to his nation’s sovereignty as long as he’s the leader?

Based on everything I’m reading, I believe implementation of a no-fly zone is in the works.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 17th, 2011
11:46 am

Based on everything I’m reading, I believe implementation of a no-fly zone is in the works.

It’s probably too late for it to do any good now, in my opinion.

@@

March 17th, 2011
11:47 am

A war and no-fly zone are two totally different things. Put an end to Qaddafi’s genocide, then haul his a$$ before a tribunal for his part in the Lockerbie bombing.

reebok

March 17th, 2011
11:48 am

Let’s see, if President Obama acts on the international front, he’s meddling and nation-building…if he doesn’t, he’s standing by and being ineffectual. It’s not difficult to formulate a train of thought when the answer is always ‘Obama is WRONG.’

Gm

March 17th, 2011
11:49 am

Listen to fat slob, high school drop out, never served a day in the military Rush Limbaugh and 3 time colleg drop out, coward Sean Hannity criticize the President for not sending troops to libya, these are the trash middle class white conservative listen to.
No wonder this country is last in everything and still living in the 20th century.

MC

March 17th, 2011
11:50 am

Too bad this time he’s right huh reebok? I love seeing the conned try to wiggle around what is obviously prudent policy given the fact that we are already bogged down in 2 unwinnable wars.

@@

March 17th, 2011
11:51 am

Hillbilly:

It’s probably too late for it to do any good now, in my opinion.

You may be right but as long as the rebels are still calling for one, we’ve gotta help ‘em. Remember the Kurds. In spite of Saddam’s slaughter, they still support the U.S..

MC

March 17th, 2011
11:53 am

Ditto Gm! And I bet you most of these chicken hawks never served a day either nor would they let their little darlings fight. Every single day I hear republican war hawks start giving all kinds of excuses about why they never served. Damn near everyone of them have bad knees. LMAO!

Kyle Wingfield

March 17th, 2011
11:57 am

All: As I said, it’s fine if you don’t think we ought to lead in these crises. My question is, who do you think will lead, if not America? Or do you just not care?

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 17th, 2011
11:57 am

@@

I’m not at all opposed to the No Fly Zone but if they’d done it a week or two ago, this thing might already be over.

If Quaddafi prevails, I wonder what that will do to the movements in other countries in the MidEast.

Georgia Voter

March 17th, 2011
11:58 am

If KW woke up at the gates of Heaven, he’d be blaming Obama for having to stand in line to see Peter.

The Obama administration did not fumble in Egypt, and they haven’t failed in Libya. In both cases, there are no easy or obvious answers, putting Obama critics in an ideal position from where they can criticize him no matter what he does.

If we got involved in Libya, the WSJ would still criticize Obama’s team for being “internationalists” and would be whining that the U.S. shouldn’t be acting as the policemen of the world. It’s especially ironic that the WSJ uses Bosnia as an example, because Clinton critics from the right opposed our intervention, and leadership, in that conflict with that very “anti-World Police” argument. Remember candidate Governor Bush’s “humble foreign policy, anti-nation building” campaign? It was in response to Clinton’s intervention in Bosnia. Republican voters ate it up.

Their arguments aren’t consistent from one situation to the next, one President to the next, or even one day to the next. It works like this: see what Obama does, and argue the opposite.

Kyle Wingfield

March 17th, 2011
11:59 am

And, if you answer my previous questions with something like “no one” and “no,” do you think we as Americans are better off in a more chaotic world?

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:01 pm

“Our notions of war and national defense are also heavily influenced by assumptions of technological mastery. If ours is the most powerful military on the planet, with the biggest guns, the fastest planes and the coolest laser-guided missiles, shouldn’t we smash our enemies to smithereens?

Indeed, those assumptions, made by many who should know better, seem to underlie the current clamor in Congress for the U.S. to intervene in Libya. Among others, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), both veterans of an earlier era of warfare, have prodded the Obama administration to impose a no-fly zone to prevent Muammar Gaddafi from slaughtering his own people.

But as many Pentagon experts have pointed out, there is no risk-free way to intervene, even with the best, the biggest, the coolest military hardware. Besides, there are political implications to consider that do not give way to aerial bombardments.”

Damn Kyle! Cynthia Tucker has more common sense than you.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:03 pm

That’s not the point Kyle. It’s their country. We have no right to intervene in their affairs any more than they in ours. Meddling in the affairs of other nations has come back to biter us in the butt over and over and over and you want to keep on making the same old mistakes.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:04 pm

Did we lead in Rwanda or Sierra Leone Kyle?

Kyle Wingfield

March 17th, 2011
12:07 pm

Nope, MC, we didn’t. Two more examples.

I understand you don’t think we should intervene. Fine. But do you think it’s “meddling” to call on Gadhafi to step down, to say we are “tightening the noose” around his neck — that is, encouraging the rebels — and then stand back? If we’re going to be noninterventionists, let’s be noninterventionists. This is the same mistake George H.W. Bush made with Iraq, openly encouraging the Kurds to rebel and then watching as Saddam slaughtered them (for those of you who think I’m just an Obama basher).

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:10 pm

Hillbilly:

What it will do is already being exhibited in Bahrain. A paper tiger is nothing they will concern themselves with. Although that one’s a bit more difficult for Obama. Given it’s strategic location and majority Shiite population with a Sunni led government, I’m thinking Iran may be meddling in that one.

Have you ever watched a parent who says to their misbehaving child…”One more time and I’m gonna have to ????? That’s after the child’s repeated the same negative behavior three times already. Threats mean nothing. Actions speak louder than words.

Granted, if we didn’t already have Qaddafi, dead to right on the Lockerbie bombing, things might be a bit more complicated. It makes no sense to wait until he’s killed his people and then prosecute.

Like I said…Bahrain’s more complicated. Libya’s pretty straightforward in my opinion.

TBone

March 17th, 2011
12:12 pm

You see in the old days the US provided leadership when the rest of the world nutted-up and our interests were at stake. Now we get paralysis of analysis but we are enlightened with our community organizer. Unfortunately, nothing in this guy’s past has given him any experience in the real world so we will sit and wait for someone to make a decision. Sad very sad.

jt

March 17th, 2011
12:12 pm

“My question is, who do you think will lead, if not America?”

How about the people.?

Not that I like Obama, or ANY Federal politician*, but it is a GOOD thing not to back up failed diplomacy with young American coffin-stuffers.

You war-mongers are sick.

*Except for the peace/liberty loving Ron Paul.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:13 pm

No Kyle. Any intervention now is failed history repeating itself. Let this play out. You have no idea who these rebels are. Wait to see who we are dealing with lest we have another Khomeini or Osama on our hands. Remember him Kyle? The “rebel” we supported in Afghanistan all those years ago. No way is any type of military intervention logical. As for the encouragement you may have a point. Obama shouldn’t have said a darn thing. We should have stayed totally out of it.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 17th, 2011
12:15 pm

Have you ever watched a parent who says to their misbehaving child…”One more time and I’m gonna have to ?????

It’s like the parent who says, “I’m going to count to 10″. That insures bad behavior, at least until 9.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:19 pm

That’s exactly the problem Tbone. We allowed dictators to rape and pillage their own countries by strong arming the people of that country because of our interest there. What don’t you get about it’s not our country? Now we are up to our azz in Alligators all over the world because of the exact policies that you guys think work sooooo well.

jt

March 17th, 2011
12:20 pm

“Obama’s ‘internationalist’ approach has failed”

I guess you need a stack of coffins for success in the progressive neo-con world.

Sir Ronald Reagen didn’t need to impress a bunch of neo-con chicken-hawk never served perpetual deferred arm-chaired punks.

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:23 pm

MC:

That’s hindsight which is why I’m thinking a no-fly zone will go no further than that. With the Arab League leading the way, there’s no way they can bad-mouth the U.S. after the fact.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:23 pm

Who do you recommend Tbone? Dick Cheney? LMAO! Halliburton loves you though. Guys like you make guys like them extremely happy.

Jefferson

March 17th, 2011
12:23 pm

So why don’t you just take your butt up to DC and revolt since you love Libyans more than your president. Good luck.

Kyle Wingfield

March 17th, 2011
12:24 pm

jt @ 12:12: Did “the people” do it all on their own in the American revolution? Mostly, yes. All, no. And @ 12:20: Reagan never intervened??

MC @ 12:13: I can live with that answer.

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:26 pm

jt:

a bunch of neo-con chicken-hawk never served perpetual deferred arm-chaired punks.

If you don’t mind my saying, you’re getting a bit personal here.

What’s bound to happen will happen with or without a bunch of bloggers’ approval.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:28 pm

Think back @@. A no fly zone in Bosnia didn’t do a damn thing. It still resulted in genocide. Damn right it’s hindsight. In other words it’s history that needs to be learned from. When did a no fly zone ever work to the advantage of ground forces that are outgunned and out manned on the ground? Name one. And the ones where we had to eventually commit troops on the ground doesn’t count.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:29 pm

Unless your ultimate agenda is more ground troops committed to another quagmire.

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:29 pm

Thank you Kyle.

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:32 pm

MC:

Qaddafi’s having to bring in mercenaries to fly those planes. Makes me wonder just how effective he’d be without planes for them to fly.

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:34 pm

MC:

And I’m curious…do you have proof that Qaddafi’s numbers outweight those of the rebels or are you mistaking air-power for numbers?

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:35 pm

Oops!

outweigh, not outweight.

HDB

March 17th, 2011
12:36 pm

Those that keep asking for intervention are the same ones that keep desiring to CUT the federal budget….and persist to state that this nation is in a precarious economic position. If we can’t finance two wars and the nation in the present economic climate….how can this nation AFFORD the price tag it’ll require for military intervention? Will this nation finally SUPPORT a TAX INCREASE to pay for our military explorations??

jt

March 17th, 2011
12:38 pm

Kyle Wingfield

Mr. Reagan kept the body count to a minimum…Lobbing a few bombs was more effective in the long run than a stupid protracted UN(or whoever) orchestrated “no fly” policy. ..And a “bunch of neo-con chicken-hawk never served perpetual deferred arm-chaired punks” was not aimed at you.” It was aimed at people like Chambliss, who never hesitates to send our youth into the fray, but his own policies here in America (War on Drugs) kill more American kids than all terrorists combined.

You probably aren’t a chicken hawk perpetually deferred arm-chaired punk, but you must admit, you are a neo-con.

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:38 pm

Those that keep asking for intervention are the same ones that keep desiring to CUT the federal budget….and persist to state that this nation is in a precarious economic position.

Don’t we already have aircraft carriers with warplanes sitting atop ‘em? I know bombs are pricey, but we’re in the vicinity anyway so…..

carlosgvv

March 17th, 2011
12:39 pm

I seem to remember it was Republican Bush who got us into Iraq and Afganistan. Obama seems to realize American is not king of the world and cannot gallop to the rescue of every country that needs help. Republican McCain, for one, has yet to grasp this.

@@

March 17th, 2011
12:40 pm

Do “neo-cons” vote for Democrats?

MC

March 17th, 2011
12:40 pm

Maybe there are people who want us in another war for no other reason than it sucks Obama into the same mistakes Bush made and negates one of the primary screw ups of the Bush Administration when it comes to political dialog. Much like the Clinton did it too argument.