The Embarrassed Superpower

When Barack Obama said he’d conduct our affairs with more humility, little did we know he meant he’d humiliate us.

He is allowing a vicious little tin-pot dictator to fight us to a standstill in Libya without bestirring himself to do much of anything about it. His latest initiative is to fly two unmanned drones over Libya to send a signal to Moammar Qaddafi about our seriousness. He must have thought sending three unmanned drones — strong letter to follow — would have been unduly harsh.

Obama launched the war with an unconditional demand that Qaddafi’s forces leave Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya. After an initial American barrage, Obama outsourced the war to Britain and France, regardless of their ability to make good on his own demands. In an interview the other day, the president noted that the war was becoming a stalemate on the ground, as if he were an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations commenting on a matter with which he had no direct connection.

 Obama’s America is a country whose commander-in-chief makes highly conditional suggestions in the guise of unconditional demands, whose allies can’t count on it, whose interests and values are negotiable. It is the embarrassed superpower, wishing away its unparalleled influence and seeking to hide behind euphemism and multilateral fictions. (It’s not “a war” in Libya, and besides it’s NATO, not us, fighting to a draw.)

When protests broke out in Syria, a country run by an Assad family mafia that has facilitated the killing of American soldiers in Iraq, Obama could barely summon a harshly negative statement when the regime began shooting people. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring is a decidedly ambiguous affair. It is toppling flawed U.S. allies, with no guarantee anything better will replace them. In Syria, it’s much simpler: A ruthless anti-American regime seeks its survival by firing live ammunition at funeral-goers.

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