The Big Dither

By Ferguson, Niall | Newsweek, April 4, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Big Dither


Ferguson, Niall, Newsweek


Byline: Niall Ferguson

Obama was right to back a no-fly zone over Libya. But he should have done it weeks ago.

"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly." Macbeth's famous line before he kills Duncan came to mind last week, when President Obama belatedly changed his mind about military intervention in Libya. Like Obama, Macbeth fervently hopes that "this blow might be the be-all and the end-all":

But in these cases -- we but teach Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice To our own lips.

The president has been more Hamlet than Macbeth since the beginning of the revolutionary crisis that has swept the desert lands of North Africa and the Middle East. To act or not to act? That has been the question. The results of his indecision have been unhappy. Hosni Mubarak, for so long an American ally, has been overthrown in Egypt. Muammar Gaddafi, the erstwhile sponsor of terrorism so foolishly rehabilitated by the West just four years ago, has--until now--lived to fight another day in Libya. Meanwhile, in Bahrain, another insurrection is being quelled with the help of Saudi Arabia--an American ally even more important than Libya.

Obama, a novice in foreign affairs, is a president without a strategy. Once a critic of American military intervention in the Middle East, once a skeptic about the chances of democratizing the region, he now finds himself with a poisoned chalice in each hand. In one there are the dregs of the last administration's interventions: military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan that he is eager to wind down. In the other is a freshly poured draft of his own making.

Make no mistake. Whatever the wording of the United Nations Security Council resolution, the United States is now at war with the Libyan government, and the aim of this war is the overthrow of Gaddafi. In the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "If you don't get him out and if you don't support the opposition and he stays in power, there's no telling what he will do. …

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