Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Absence of American Leadership

From the beginning of the current Middle Eastern crisis, I have felt confident about only one thing: that the American foreign policy team, led by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would not be able to manage the situation.

To me it was inconceivable that these two could provide anything resembling leadership as the crisis unfolded.

At the very least, a leader should demonstrate a command of the facts of the situation. If he cannot command the information then how can he possible chart a course through a shifting and complex set of facts.

For that reason I have spent a lot of time of this blog providing information from the best sources I have been able to find. I do not presume to know what should be done, but, I can offer materials that will help others follow the events.

Most especially, I have warned against misreading these events by trying to fit them into some overarching myth, like the myth of revolution.

Throughout the crisis Barack Obama has not shown even a grasp of the facts in the Middle East. Victor Davis Hanson summarized the conduct of American policy: “In general, from the very beginning of the unrest in Tunisia, the United States has appeared erratic, inconsistent, and contradictory, often pontificating and talking loudly while carrying a tiny stick. It also apparently has no clue that Iran, Libya, and Syria are different sorts of autocracies from a dictatorial Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, or the Gulf states.” Link here.

Not to be outdone by her boss, Hillary Clinton recently announced that we are witnessing a woman’s revolution in the Middle East. Link here.

Clinton’s remarks were offered at an event that commemorated her role in breaking a glass ceiling.

The fact that she is the third female secretary of state seems not to have bothered anyone. She is still a heroine to her people, though less for her accomplishments, I fear, than for her stoical ability to suffer repeated public humiliation.

Above all else, this makes her a martyr for a cause. And martyrs are not very well placed to command respect.

If I may be so bold, gender is neither a qualification nor a disqualification for such a job. Still and all, anyone who can think beyond the kind of bean counter mentality that infects so much feminist thought about these matters would have to acknowledge that what matters is doing the job, not placing a token woman in a job that is beyond her capacity.

If Hillary Clinton seriously believes that the revolution in Egypt was a woman’s revolution, then she is not merely misinformed; she is refusing to remove her ideological blinders.

Not only were Hosni and Suzanne Mubarak among those who were leading the campaign to stop female genital mutilation in Egypt, but the treatment of Lara Logan in Tahrir Square should have been a hint, even to Hillary Clinton, that the new Egyptian attitude toward women was none too friendly.

Given that the State Department directs the CIA, the Secretary of State has access to better information than the rest of us. Clinton’s briefings should have told her about the women’s protest in Tahrir Square on March 8. She should have known that far fewer women than had been estimated showed up, and that the rally was aborted because the women were attacked, harassed, and abused by armed men. Link here.

Obviously, Obama and Clinton are in way over their head, One might also say, as the Wall Street Journal editorialized yesterday, that the Obama administration had succeeded in fulfilling its oft-stated intention not to exercise American leadership.

This isn’t a six-of-one/half-dozen-of-the-other situation, but you do have to ask whether Obama has been touting the virtue of an  absence of American leadership because he does not know how to exercise leadership or whether his ideological commitment to what the Journal calls “followership“ has made him inapt even to try.

Writing about the situation in Libya, the Journal wrote: “Whatever else one might say about President Obama's Libya policy, it has succeeded brilliantly in achieving its oft-stated goal of not leading the world. No one can any longer doubt the U.S. determination not to act before the Italians do, or until the Saudis approve, or without a U.N. resolution. This White House is forthright for followership.” Link here.

It is easy enough to understand what happens when America leads and when the course of events turns out well or poorly. More difficult to ascertain is the fallout when America, the world’s leading superpower, abrogates authority and responsibility.

According to the Journal: “When the U.S. fails to lead, the world reverts to its default mode as a diplomatic Tower of Babel. Everyone discusses ‘options’ and  ‘contingencies’ but no one has the will to act, while the predators march.”

It's also possible that Obama and Clinton are trying to avoid taking anything but the safest stand because they fear having to take responsibility for the consequences. Yet, even their timid statements can come back to haunt them: “If Gadhafi survives after Mr. Obama has told him to go, the blow to U.S. prestige and world order would be enormous. Dictators will learn that the way to keep America from acting is to keep its diplomats and citizens around, while mowing down your opponents as the world debates contingencies. By the time the Babelers make a decision, it will be too late. This is a dangerous message to send at any time, but especially with a Middle East in the throes of revolution.”


JP said...

Plus, American is in the post-Unvaveling era of the so-called Crisis era (generational theory).

Couple this with a hegemonic Great Power undergoing delegitimation, and you have a prescription for a profound inability of the United States to actually act in a coherent manner both due to internal issues (Clinton/Obama) and external issues (loss of hegemonic leadership).

I expect lots and lots of inaction for now on the part of the West.

I don't know enough about recent Arab history to really comment on anything about this situation, other that the large broad brush strokes of innovation waves, debt waves, political leadership waves, and generational theory.

flynful said...

There was a post a few weeks ago that included the graduation pictures of the class of Cairo University form the 1950's until a few years ago. The early picture, probably during the reign of King Fourouk showed all of the women in western dress, and there were many women in the class. Over the years the pictures show an ever growing number of women wearing some sort of head cover, so that at this time its use is total. This is the liberation of women?

James Lewis has an article this morning at that is a must read.

Susan said...

I know that Hillary Clinton has to tow the line and carry out Obama's agenda, but honestly, to me she is the greater disappointment, I guess because I somehow expected more and better from her, despite her inexperience. Certainly in her concern on women's issues around the globe, I would have thought she might make a positive contribution. Well, my bad. Her outright denial of the facts on the ground as concerns women in Egypt boggles the mind, and equals or exceeds in idiocy even Obama's Cairo speech.
And her screwing over of Israel beggers belief. Who knew she would actively aid and abet evil?

Outstanding analysis and article.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, all, for the comments. The James Lewis article that Flynful mentions is excellent. Here's a link:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I was just thinking about Susan's comment about Hillary. I am amazed to see that the State Dept. spokesman P.J. Crowley has been fired for having denounced the treatment of Wikileaker Pfc. Manning.

Clearly, he had no business offering personal opinions. And yet, in Hillary's state department, he was allowed to do so.

What does this tell us about Clinton's abilities as an executive? And why is it that no one in the media seems to think that Crowley's behavior reflects on her.

The stories I've read seem to be saying that firing was initiated by the White House, as though the Secretary of State was not a real player in the State Dept. press operation.

Anonymous said...

Good blog, thanks. I continue to be amazed that Hillary is considered capable of anything more than small minded self promotion. I especially think your take on Hillary and 'the Glass Ceiling was very perceptive. Whenever her name is mentioned I always think of her being under fire in the Balkans lie and yet she became a candidate for President!