President Obama and his White House National Security Council team said
that in the case of Egypt, there was a "great opportunity to align
values and interests." The real answer is that "interests" were
recalculated because the US commitments are overextended and the
mystique of American power was now being challenged by thousands of
pin-prick tests around the world.
The decision by President Obama to join Great Britain and France in a
humanitarian intervention in Libya exhibits the trap into which a
diminished superpower with the memory of a globally dominant ego used to
large ambitions can fall .
Before the intervention, the US Department of Defense warned Obama that a
"limited conflict" was dangerous -- that the resources for a larger
conflict were not easily available and that a limited approach could
lead to a long-term, costly stalemate with Moammer Qaddafi; and that
even if the NATO intervention succeeded in destabilizing the Libyan
dictator, the successor government could easily be ripped apart by
internal tensions and either tribal or political/religious civil war.
America's resource constraints -- as well as the limited military and
financial capacities of US allies in Europe -- have produced a
half-effort in Libya yielding exactly the stalemate thus far, that many
national security experts feared. And with this stalemate, the US
action -- which in the eyes of the world is a "defining action" -- creates
a benchmark of US power and prestige that appears impotent.
The Assad regime in Syria is engaged in full-scale, random assaults
throughout the country on its own people -- detaining many thousands and
wounding and killing many unarmed protesters and innocent, non-political
bystanders. And yet the US and the West have virtually no influence on
the internal dynamics at play in Syria. The Gulf Cooperation Council
is issuing statements of concern -- but taking no serious action. The
Arab League has said nothing. China and Russia -- while concerned about
what is happening in Syria and encouraging "restraint" -- are not
allowing the US to proceed with any UN Security Council measures.
The world is paralyzed trying to respond to the horrific violence inside
Syria, thus exposing the weakness of the United States in shaping
Syria's incentives and disincentives in the world. The US has little with which to
bribe, or seduce, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- and little with which to compel him.
In the eyes of the Arab region, if Obama cannot prevail over the Israeli
Prime Minister in hard fought political differences -- as over the
continued expansion of Israeli settlements -- then to many of these
leaders, Obama's power looks paper thin and ignorable.
This is a tough spot for the United States to be in as it means that every challenge is harder, every burden heavier.
like an equity in the stock markets, is ultimately a function of future
expectations -- and today the reality is that America's stock has
fallen dramatically and will only rise again with visionary statecraft
revolutionary, new global deal-making that might restore the impression
that America once again matters.
Image is from Waving Goodbye to Hegemony by Parag Khanna in the New York Times Magazine. Image by Kevin Van Aeist. Reprinted with permission.