A distinguished columnist, editor and foreign correspondent, Wes Pruden has been a leading voice of conservative thought for more than three decades.
Fear (and loathing) of the fruitcake
Once upon a time a nutty despot who threatened to kill Americans could expect to see a warship in his harbor the next morning. But that's so 20th century. Now the president reduces himself to pleading for the likes of Gabon, Upper Volta, San Marino and the principality of Monaco to help us get a strong letter of protest through the United Nations.
In truth, President Obama couldn't send a proper naval display to Tripoli or Benghazi even if he could borrow enough courage from the typing pool to order it. The big warships have been diverted elsewhere; the carrier Enterprise is cruising somewhere in the Indian Ocean, far from Libya. Only after the European Union said it was safe to go near the water the president agreed to send "air and naval units" to join the fighting Europeans.
British Prime Minister David Cameron sounds a little like a British prime minister of old. He instructed his military chiefs to prepare for imposing a no-fly zone, and made a point of excluding nothing. President Obama made a point of instructing Hillary Clinton to say American "naval and air units" might need to rescue someone at sea.
The president obviously won't go near the typing pool and the White House closet where courage and resolute confidence have been put on the shelf. True grit can be contagious. Feckless is the default position of this White House. George W. Bush is said to have remarked of his successor, at the end of a White House briefing for him soon after he was elected: "This guy just doesn't have a clue."
Hopey-change no longer works even for those who want to believe in the Chicago messiah. The White House can't even figure out who Moammar Gadhafi really is, the Libyan warrior with the novel strategy of shooting, bombing and strafing his own people. Reporters at the State Department tried to pin down the administration spokesman over the who and the what of the mad man of Tripoli.
"Is Gadhafi a dictator?" one scribe asked.
"Are you stumped?"
"No, I am not stumped," the spokesman replied.
"So what's your answer to the question?"
"I don't think he came to office through a diplomatic process."
No one expects much from the State Department, the redoubt of the weak, the decrepit and of impotence enthroned. But even Robert Gates, the defense secretary and one of the few grown-ups tolerated in the Obama administration, seems comfortable in the impotence mode. When a reporter at the Pentagon asked about the options under consideration for actually dealing with the situation, Mr. Gates replied: "I think that, you know, as I say, it's a very fast-moving situation, and we're obviously meeting two or three times a day on these things."
What the "situation" pleads for is fewer "meetings" and a little action. When the president finally got around to talking about the "situation" he boasted that his "national-security team" had been working around the clock, in more meetings and had produced "a full range of options" requiring mostly still more meetings. His message was something a high-school junior might prepare for a citizenship essay. There was nothing in it to give the crazy colonel even mild heartburn, but the presidential teleprompter burped, flashed, and crashed. "The United States strongly supports the universal rights of the Libyan people," the president said, "and that includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny," followed by more high-sounding blah, blah, blah.
The White House put out the story that the president was afraid to say very much until the last of the Americans had escaped on the ferry boat waiting for sunny weather to cast off from Tripoli. The British, on the other hand, yielded to no such qualm. They dispatched two warships and several Hercules transports of the RAF to execute an "extremely complex" rescue from an airport in Benghazi, taking into account, but not deterred by, the prospect of challenging Libya's air-defense system. Once in Malta, the rescued were fed, put through customs and immigration procedures and taken to hotels for overnight rest before flying out to London the next morning.
The British response inevitably reminded old-timers of Ronald Reagan's bold rescue of similarly threatened American students in Grenada 30 years ago. That was an earlier time, when Americans demanded a tougher president. We're more sophisticated, more nuanced now. We've even got a president who can speak a little French. But hopey-changey stinks in any language.
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Hugo Chavez, the rowdy left-wing president of Venezuela, doesn’t have to nibble at freedom of speech, via the Internet. Unlike government officials here and elsewhere, Mr. Chavez runs an “efficient” government. He just scarfs down everything in his way.
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