“From Benghazi to Bahrain, Mr Obama is proving to be a brutal disappointment.” That is the concluding sentence of today’s editorial in the London Times. There it is — the editorial is reflecting a sea-change in public opinion. And it’s not just the persecuted inhabitants of contested Arab cities who feel this disappointment, but also people all over the world who not so long ago decided that Mr. Obama was hope personified.
Of course there is some humbug in the air as well. Those disappointed people have suddenly discovered that the United States is not going to be looking after them and they will be on their own. Europeans and Asians have devoted so many of their resources to creature comforts that they are not in a position to protect their peace and security. It’s a shock that Obama is the one leaving them to be self-sufficient, a condition to which so many have been unaccustomed for so long.
A White House deputy by the name of Ben Rhodes has explained that the Obama conception of the U.S. role in the world is “to work through multinational organizations and bilateral relationships to make sure that the steps we are taking are amplified.” (You don’t “amplify steps” unless you are trying to be misleading, but let that pass.) This multinational and bilateral stuff is just that — stuff — a recipe for inertia, arenas for self-important diplomats in which to generate hot air, to propose meetings and postpone them, to pass resolutions watered down until they are meaningless.
The Libyan tragedy illustrates this higher vacuity. Institutions designed for the multilateral and the bilateral, the Security Council, the European Union, the Arab League, daily prove that they serve no useful purpose. Worse, while they posture among themselves, Moammar Qaddafi and his thugs have been allowed to massacre those asking for their rights. That is the direct consequence of Obama’s decision that the United States no longer entertains an independent foreign policy but leaves everyone, including the likes of Qaddafi, to do as they please.
Shame is one aspect of it, and the surrender of the West is another. Qaddafi has a long record of terror. Once he has committed enough mass-murder to stay in power, he can take revenge by brandishing oil contracts as blackmail, restarting his nuclear program, joining forces with the al-Qaeda or other Islamists he pretends are his enemies, and much else. Obama’s refusal to commit the United States over Libya has given Qaddafi an international Get-Out-of-Jail card. First disappointment, then danger.