Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Art Of Constraint

Calvin Coolidge, one of our least eminent presidents once said, The business of this country is business. He might also have said that our chief occupation is busyness. It is our habit to do, to act and react. With Power on a national level and empowerment as a personal creed we have a hard time with constraint.

Sometimes the best course is to not just do something but stand there. When the Lakers are imploding on the court Zen Master, Phil Jackson, does not call time out. He makes then figure it out for themselves. When the pitcher can't find home plate the manager may not pull him out of the game but show confidence and let him regain his rhythm. Inaction is also a choice and a difficult one sure to invite criticism.

President Obama is in one of those situations. The rebels in Libya are on the brink of defeat. Without foreign intervention we may be witness to a terrible massacre. Our impulse is to send the marines to the shores of Tripoli or at least Benghazi. The administration's refusal to do so, unilaterally, can be a defining moment. Unless the effort is sanctioned and staffed by the United Nations we must not deploy our combat forces.

For too long we’ve practiced a muscular foreign policy, policing the world and not necessarily for moral reasons. Our forces are more often an agency of our national (business) interests. Our thirst for that black stuff under the sand is never quenched. If cars ran on piss we’d be invading urinals.

The time has come to turn the ship of state and come home. There are limits to power and we have already exceeded that point. Our weaponry in the Libyan desert might save lives but at the same time create a backlash in the Arab world and mobilize them against us. We have earned the mistrust of those people having lent support for the regimes now under siege.

We need only ask, what would the previous administration do in this scenario.......and then do the opposite. Obama has pledged support for the insurgency in every way possible except committing our armed forces; freezing assets, embargo and accountability in the world court. Let us offer humanitarian aid with open hearts and hands, not with our fists.

In 1956 Pres. Eisenhower faced a crisis when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Britain and France sought a military resolution. We broke with our allies and stayed home. Constraint took courage and proved to be the wise option in constrast to four years later when we took up the military mission of the French in Southeast Asia.

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