Scott beat me to the punch with the recollection of the famous “More Mush from the Wimp” Boston Globe headline about one of Jimmy Carter’s serial expressions of weakness–a headline that the Baltimore Sun‘s Theo Lippman suggests as the second-most famous 20th century newspaper headline after “Wall Street Lays an Egg,” though I think I’d have to place “Dewey Defeats Truman” ahead of both. But Obama’s reaction to events in Libya certainly gives Carter a run for his money in the pathetic weakness department. I’m already looking forward to Obama’s ex-presidency, where he and Carter can duke it out for the championship of worst ex-president. Obama certainly has the chops to be a contender, and make up ground fast against Carter’s record.
But maybe there is a defense to be made of Obama’s reticence? Fareed Zakaria makes the point in today’s Washington Post that President George W. Bush’s democracy agenda, though worthy on its merits, probably backfired in the Middle East:
But because so many of Bush’s policies were unpopular in the region, and seen by many Arabs as “anti-Arab,” it became easy to discredit democracy as an imperial plot. In 2005, Hosni Mubarak effectively silenced a vigorous pro-democracy movement by linking it to Bush. Obama has had a quieter approach, supporting freedom but insisting that the United States did not intend to impose it on anyone. As unsatisfying as this might have been as public rhetoric, it has had the effect of allowing the Arab revolts of 2011 to be wholly owned by Arabs.
In other words, perhaps we should think of this as akin to the first President Bush’s muted reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which was motivated by concern over the sensitivity of the question of German reunification that it raised, or his even more dubious “Chicken Kiev” speech in 1991, which on the surface seemed to dash legitimate hopes for captive peoples to escape the clutches of the old Soviet Union, but was really part of some careful behind-the-scenes diplomacy to restrain Mikhail Gorbachev from extending his already brutal crackdown of the revolting Baltic states.
If something like this is really the case in the Obama White House, it suggests the obvious tactic. Washington should put out the word on the “Arab street” that Israel is secretly hoping for Kaddafi’s survival. (Who knows–maybe they are.) If that idea were to spread, he’ll be gone by sundown.