Shock and Awe versus Aw Shucks: Taking Out the Bad Guys

gaddafiOn the same day (October 21, 2011), President Obama was able to remark upon the killing of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya and to announce the final withdrawal of American troops from Iraq by the end of this year. This fortuitous conjuncture invites a comparison of how presidents Bush and Obama dealt with the tyrants in those two countries.

Obama, who gained many votes by his promise to end the war in Iraq, nonetheless bought into Bush’s commitment. He also did what Bush may never have intended: he honored the agreement Bush concluded in 2008 with the Iraqi government to withdraw American troops by the end of 2011. Similarly in Afghanistan, where Obama saw the conflict as legitimate, he bought into Bush’s commitment but demanded that it be limited in both size and duration. As a result, the U.S. commitment to that conflict will also wind down in the next year.

In short, Obama has set a major contrast in style and strategy with George W. Bush: he does not grandstand, he does not order massive military interventions. He doesn’t question Bush’s commitments, but he set up the rules of engagement and the negotiating positions to allow him to dial them back.

Obama is no dove, however, as he made clear in his Nobel Peace Prize address. He has used unmanned drones far more than Bush, and to deadly effect in combating al Qaeda and the Taliban, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and in Libya. Again, he has accepted Bush’s definition of the struggle, but adopted tactics much less costly in both lives and dollars.

Confronted with the turmoil of the Arab Spring, Obama has resisted the temptation to intervene on a large scale, though we should not doubt that the CIA is discreetly active in Syria and Yemen, at least. In Bahrain and the rest of the Persian Gulf oil states, Obama has given no encouragement to the protests. Only in Libya (led by a chronic bad boy disliked not only in the West but also among Arab leaders) did he respond to pressure to lend support to the anti-Qaddafi rebels. And rather than take the lead in a major invasion like that in Iraq, Obama chose to orchestrate a NATO air war, supported by the Arab League and mandated by the Security Council for the exclusive purpose of protecting civilians. In practice, as we know, the air war was coordinated with the rebels to gradually erode the regime’s capabilities and allow the rebels’ territorial advances.

It was a fitting end to the Libyan conflict that Qaddafi was finally driven into a culvert by a drone strike on his convoy as he was trying to flee the rebel forces capturing his last redoubt. His unfortunate death by an apparent lynching cannot really be laid at Obama’s door, but may nonetheless be useful to the administration in persuading the leaders of Syria and Yemen to be more reasonable.

john peelerSomewhat surprisingly for a president who is coming to be regarded as politically inept, it appears that at least in the Middle East he is showing a good deal of what Machiavelli called virtù. That is, he seems to grasp how he can best maximize his power and achieve his objectives, whether by doing good or evil. Without bluster, without excessive force, he contrives to move toward where he wants to be, even when it is not obvious that he has moved at all.

John Peeler


  1. says

    Peeler carries on as tho Obama was smart to buy into Bush’s bloody commitments – after winning a presidential campaign based on promising utter change from those commitments.

    Well, he did reneg on Bush’ (and Bush’ predecessors’) commitments to defensible borders for Israel, including the notion that Israelis should be able to build within parts of their own capital city that have been in Israel since 1949, and he’s made sure that Hamas could dig in in Gaza, so I guess we got some change.

    But overall Obama can be accounted ‘smart’ and ‘effective’ in the Mideast only if his actual objective there is to enable Islamist supremacy – much as he can be accounted ‘smart’ and ‘effective’ at home only if his actual objective here in the USA is to enable right-wing Wall-Street-&-wealthy supremacy.

    The grand effect of Obama’s Mideast policies has been to help intolerant Islamic supremacists triumph over and squash Islamic moderates and non-Moslems – including the Copts in Egypt, other Christians in Syria and Lebanon and Iraq, the Jews in Israel, Darfuris and southerners in Sudan, and Americans in and out of uniform anywhere in the region.

    Our prime enemy in the Mideast – as evidenced by not only its statements but its actual performance time and again in killing Americans as well as in nurturing militant and intolerant Islamic supremacism – is the Iran regime. It excels in domestic repression, outright genocidal declarations and a nuke program, and support of a network of terror regimes and organizations. So Obama has coddled it – and its allied Assad regime in Syrian – with ‘engagement’, followed up by a token pretense of opposition in the form of mildly irritating but ineffectual ‘sanctions’, and now is de facto handing over Iraq to them too. The belated opposition to Assad in Syria has taken the form of letting Turkey’s Islamic supremacist regime pick a Moslem-brotherhood dominated rebel council to eventually take over in Syria.

    The Obamites never admit the region’s biggest disaster on their watch – the Islamic takeover, supposedly in the name of democracy and anti-militarization, of what was a secular forward-looking Turkey. Instead, the Obamites pretend that all is well or better in Turkey, and are now appeasing the Islamists there just as they appease the Iran regime. And two other disasters – the changes in Libya and Egypt which amount to handing over both countries eventually to the Moslem Brotherhood – likewise are painted as Obama triumphs.

  2. says

    This article is blatant partisan Obama cheerleading piece, full of lies and half-truths. Obama warmongering credentials are clear for the world to see, escalations of troops in Afghanistan, Africa and also illegal attacks in Pakistan. Add to this the full US support of the armed insurgency in Libya, and soon in Syria. Using NATO is no different that going in unilaterally, because the US runs and pays for most of NATO.

    Like Tony Blair and Bush before him, Obama is a political slave for the money powers and military industrial complex- as well as a war criminal.

    If John Peeler seems to think that the US will withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of 2011 and 2012. What a joke, very naive to ignore that the US has already approved a massive budget for thousands of “military advisers and thousands of hired mercenary forces and security companies to remain there.

    Peeler also waxes “we should not doubt that the CIA is discreetly active in Syria and Yemen, at least”. Discreetly active?? They have been involved in each and every regime change project in the region and are now supporting the armed insurgency in Syria.

    If Peeler was a professor of political science at Bucknell University, I feel bad for his students because he seems to more concerned with Democrat vs Republicans than seeing things for what they actually are. His analysis is high school level political science.

    Quite shameful, or just naive?

    It’s hard to tell.

  3. in_awe says

    I am wondering why Obama hates teachers and cops so much that he spent $1.1Billion so far ($440MM borrowed from China) on killing Qaddafi rather than stopping illiteracy, rapes and convenience store robberies by spending the same money on those sainted public union employees…

    • Ray Bishop says

      I am wondering why there people in the world who might make an assumption that our President hates teachers and cops. This is an absurd statement and to link the actions of our government to some personal idea of the President that first he killed Kadafi, failed to stop illiteracy, rapes and convenience store robberies by spending money on “sainted public union employees” demonstrates the problem we in America have in relation to truth and a proper education.
      The writer in_awe has the right to express an opinion however he is way off base. It would help to stop illiteracy by learning to spell Kadafi correctly. Rapes and robberies are committed by individuals with free will and will continue no matter what any President does. The money spent on public union employees have been paid by the government and the President has nothing to do with this.
      As far as their sainthood I was not personally aware that the Pope or anyone else had proclaimed this.
      I suggest that if a person is going to write on a public blog they consider what they are writing and if this type of thing is what they believe they should join the Republican Party like Bachman and run for President. This way you can make up all kinds of crap and know that ignorant people will believe it.
      So keep on wondering.

      • Ryder says

        Earth To Ray…

        in_awe is punking you. He is reminding us what the left said about bush when he spent on military operations… as if military and education were an either-or proposition.

        And he would be right to punk you on the fact that Obama lied about the timetable in Libya, didn’t explain how Libya was a threat to the US or her vital interests… committed acts of war while never having a declaration of war…. in short, everything progressives screamed about as they hit the streets in massive protest… when bush put on his commander in chief hat.

        Lately, I hear crickets. And Sharia Law coming to Libya. Good going.

        Now the progressive stance seems to be: ” Go ahead… be the world’s policeman… bring down any dictator you don’t happen to like… we don’t care… you’re one of us, except you took more contributions from Wall Street Bankers than any other president in history, but aside from that, I guess it’s ok now. Open fire, big guy.”

        What a difference an election makes.

  4. Timi Burke says

    Great article.

    “…[Obama] seems to grasp how he can best maximize his power and achieve his objectives, whether by doing good or evil. Without bluster, without excessive force, he contrives to move toward where he wants to be, even when it is not obvious that he has moved at all.”

    It is my view that the same strategy has been used to counter the Right-fright attacks: he’s co-opted Moderate and Republican positions, which accomplishes two things: defuses fear about him and his agenda; and, pushes Republicans to their present extreme Rt-wing positions (since they cannot be seen agreeing with him).

    So, now the nation is focused on how far-Right the GOP is — a strategic success of Obama’s. This is ignored by those who are furious at him for ‘not standing up for our ideals’ — yet, if he had been our Hero and done so, right now the nation would be united in fear of his ‘extreme agenda’.

  5. says

    Mr. John Peeler is wrong about everything he says about Obama and is taking the wrong course and askinging the wrong questions- First-Neithere Bush nor Obama obtained Congressional support for either the Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or other conflicts, even the Miliary trainers in Uganda”. Secondly, those Drone strikes have not been accurate, today’s L.A. Times revealed that two American service men were mistakenly killed-countless innocent Yemen, Afghanistans and Iraq have been also killed.
    Thirdly while yes, Obama has not crowed about his kills- neither is the actual killing of Osama nor Gaddifi victories, both should be been captured alive and put on trial to account for their crimes. Gaddifi had been visited last year by Senators McCain and Liberman-what did they discuss? What deals were made. On the wanted posters in the Post Office, Osama was never wanted for 9/11, his own admission that this was his mission was the only tangible proof that he was responsible. The fact that NATO and the Arab League agreed with Obama is no surprise-who knows what kinds of deals and armtwisting went on- Yes, we have left the people of Yemen Syria alone along with Baharian because it does not serve our present interest nor of Isreal. Finally, our supposed reason for intervention in Libya was to save innocent lives- What about the thousand of innocents we killed in Surte? They were not allowed to surrended. No Obama is a hypocrite and the unanswered question is why we have money to intervene in wars and no money for Education, Infrastructure or social service and Health?

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