Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Poisoned Chalices Gambit in the Middle East

Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson writing for Newsweek expounds that President Obama has dithered too long before acting in 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..."
Yes, the old poisoned chalices gambit, any fan of The Princess Bride would recognize that:

"Never get involved in a land war in Asia."
"Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line."
Vizzini had a lot of advice for the masked man in black in their battle of wits, and drank the poison anyway for his trouble. The hero had poisoned both chalices, but had also spent years building up an immunity to the poison. Libya isn't even in Asia and Qadhafi is no Sicilian.

Niall also makes this stunningly irrelevant observation:

"When the news of the no-fly zone reached Benghazi last week, it was relayed from mosque loudspeakers, and the crowds responded with cries of 'Allahu akbar!' not 'God bless America!'"
Gee, Niall, I think to be welcomed as liberators we have to send ground troops and President Obama is not sending ground troops. Even then, the liberated usually sing their own national anthems.

Of course, Niall is insinuating that this is the same thing the Fort Hood shooter shouted back in 2009. But it's one thing to shout "Allahu akbar" before opening fire on a U.S. military base. It's another thing to shout "Allahu akbar" on the streets of a Muslim nation like Libya.

If it seems to have taken a long time for President Obama to choose the chalice from which to drink, there also seems to be some misdirection involved. The President announced the air strikes Saturday from Brazil, on the first leg of a five day diplomatic trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. Has a U.S. President ever announced a U.S. military action from a foreign country? Unprecedented.

That seems designed to send a message, and not just to Qadhafi. To who else could President Obama be sending a message? Raul and Fidel Castro in Cuba? Hugo Chavez in Venezuela? Maybe Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua? The Washington Times reported just last Tuesday that Castro and Chavez were standing by Qadhafi. Just take a sip from the chalice boys, it's only kool aid.

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