What Obama Should Say

People of the World:

My Secretary of State has condemned the violent repression by the Libyan regime and called for its cessation. That’s fine as far as it goes. But it does not go nearly far enough.

I wish to state clearly the position of the United States.

That umbrella won't protect you

Moammar Ghadafy – or Qadafi or Khadafy or however the heck you spell it – is a deranged criminal whose regime should be terminated immediately. He and his cronies should be put on trial and punished severely for their atrocious crimes.

A good model would be Ceausescu 1989.

The United States has often been accused of supporting dictators. Unfortunately this has sometimes been true. Sometimes, in this imperfect world, it has seemed to be a difficult choice of one evil versus another. But let me make this clear: the United States does not support regimes. We support peoples, and nations. That means working with governments that happen to be in power. In the case of Egypt, for example, the United States, in order to engage with the Egyptian people, the Egyptian nation, had to work with the government of Hosni Mubarak, as long as it seemed that government could not be changed. We were not supporting Mubarak. We were supporting Egypt, and its people. And when the people of Egypt rose up to get rid of Mubarak, we supported them in their courageous action to assert their human dignity and control their own destiny. If, at the time, we seemed pusillanimous about that, I apologize. I do have a tendency to be wishy-washy and to want to have it both ways.

(And, note to my speechwriters; I don’t want to see the word “stability,” ever again.)

In the case of Libya, we never liked that sonofabitch Khadafy, and we totally support the brave efforts of the Libyan people to get rid of him.

The same is true of any other nation where a regime reigns against the will of its people. We do not support such regimes, and we support efforts by the people of such nations to achieve democratic change. We believe that Gandhi in India provided an excellent model (psst: Palestinians). However, it is a tragic reality of the human condition that sometimes pacifism means empowering non-pacifists willing to use violence to get their way. It’s a tragic reality that sometimes you have to fight and die to achieve justice and freedom. Where that is true, the United States supports such courageous efforts and honors the people who undertake them.

This is what we say to the people of all nations oppressed by undemocratic regimes: we support you, the people, and we support your aspirations for freedom. What we want is a world in which all people are free. That is the ultimate goal of United States foreign policy.

God bless humankind. Thank you, and good night.

8 Responses to “What Obama Should Say”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    I assume (and hope) that you are not suggesting that Obama use these EXACT words, but rather that you would prefer that the government use stronger and more decisive language in general. I’m sure there are many people in the White House and Congress who share your sentiments and your frustration. However, calling Ghadafy a “deranged criminal” would have severe political and diplomatic consequences, regardless of whether or not it is true (which, I agree with you, it is). Moreover, I think the very people who cannot say these things are the very ones who have the strongest feelings. As frustrating it is for you, it is probably much more frustrating for the people who actually do have international influence, as they can neither say these things in a speech, nor on a private blog, as you can.

    FSR RESPONSE: Thank you, Elizabeth, for commenting on my blog! No, I don’t think Obama should use the word “sonofabitch.” But I do think he should give this speech — and not just as a venting of feelings. I believe that saying this would very much serve America’s national interest. People in the Middle East have a very negative view toward America, they do not believe we are on their side. It hasn’t been clear to ME that our GOVERNMENT is actually on their side. But we should be, not only because it’s right, but because their side represents the future for the region. We should say so — clearly and forthrightly.
    I Just heard an NPR radio interview with a Libyan — 58 year old businessman, in the midst of the fighting. The interviewer asked, “What can WE do?” His answer: In Egypt, you were on the side of the people — after they’d won. We want to know you’re on our side — now.
    It’s true that when you have to work with a foreign leader, calling him names is not a good idea. But that surely doesn’t apply to Gadhafi, with whom we don’t really have a relationship — plus, he is frankly doomed at this point, in my opinion. Most people in Libya (and elsewhere) would welcome such refreshing candor.

  2. Lee Says:

    Have you seen “From Dictatorship to Democracy” by Gene Sharp? It is available freely, at http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations/org/FDTD.pdf . It’s a an approach with some Gandhi-like features, but it is adapted for more modern times. And it gives actual strategies and tactics, not just high-order principles.

    I don’t know what Sharp would opine, but I am thinking that the South Africa reconciliation or the George Mitchel peace process in Northern Ireland are more effective than were the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. Yes, we should get non-democratically elected leaders out quickly. However, even if we put the moral issues of execution aside, it is my opinion that, once ousted, a more lasting peace is achievable with reconciliation than with execution.

    In short, and generalizing a little too much, the misleaders held power because some non-trivial number of reasonable people supported them. These reasonable people supported these otherwise atrocious rulers because the rulers pretended to address (or sometimes actually addressed) legitimate grievances of these people. Execution of misleaders is a way of telling these reasonable people that their reasonable grievances will not be addressed. Reconciliation instead brings these reasonable people into the fold.

    FSR RESPONSE: As indicated in my post, I agree that a Gandhian approach is the ideal. Gandhi succeeded in India because the relatively civilized Brits had moral inhibitions about use of violence to suppress opposition. Such a situation, unfortunately, does not always obtain. It did in Egypt; it does not in Libya, where, frankly, only by meeting violence with violence will freedom and justice be achieved.
    In cases like Libya’s, some people support the regime not because it actually does good things or addresses “legitimate grievances” but because either they are deluded or deceived into the ideology, or else they benefit by being part of the ruling apparatus. “Reasonable people” do not support a deranged thug like Gadhafi!!!
    Justice includes comeuppance for crimes. I believe the execution of the Ceausescus was an act of justice, and I rejoice over it. Likewise, I would very much like to see Gadhafi receive that sort of justice. And I think it would help Libya to turn the page if Gadhafi is not smirking in a cushy exile but, rather, in his grave.

  3. Joel Says:


    It would be refreshing to hear our president speak that way. The one we have now is not capable of it.

    Think back to when Reagan said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”. He was not addressing a petty third world tyrant. He was speaking to the leader of one of the two world superpowers. Right now, the stakes for Obama are so much lower. What in the world is he waiting for?

  4. rationaloptimist Says:

    Joel, many thanks for your comment. Best regards Frank

  5. Lee Says:

    I should have started my last comment wit h “bravo” or similar — I agree with 90%-plus of what you say, and quibble with only one part. So, let me say it here — bravo.

    Take a look at Sharp’s free book. It is quite practical in its advice — at least to my untrained eye — and it may sway you from your opinion that, in today’s Libya, “only by meeting violence with violence will freedom and justice be achieved.”

    FSR RESPONSE: I gave Sharp’s book a quick glance. I am very much a pacifist by personality and inclination. But I do not find “pacifism” at all useful as a political doctrine. One must choose pragmatically the best approach based on the situation. As hinted in my blog post, I think the Palestinians have made a big mistake in choosing violence over a Gandhian approach. Libya is an entirely different situation. Gadhafi has a mercenary army that cannot be neutralized or co-opted by pacifist means. The least bloody possible scenario, in my opinion, would be to cut off the head of the snake — for rebels or defectors to get at Gadhafi and kill him. Failing that, the choices for Libyans are to either capitulate to his strong-arm tactics, or fight them militarily.

  6. Lee Says:

    I choose the aggressive interference approach over violence, not out of religious or personal belief, but based upon pragmatism. I don’t buy the argument that this or that particular opponent is too irrational/mercenary for these better approaches to work. If anything, I would say the opposite; generally the more violence-capable the totalitarian, the less chance the less-armed populace has of winning the battle by shifting the playing field to the one clearly dominated by the totalitarian. Factor in that spilled blood then gives adversaries yet more “justification” to never reconcile and we see the odds tilting farther away from democracy.

    As enumerated in Sharp’s book, it is better to choose a battlefield where the democratic forces have the upper hand. Totalitarians have weaknesses, and Sharp’s book enumerates common ones and how to attack them. It is also better to choose a battlefield that does not push away the reasonable people who happen to support your adversary. Many mercenaries are such simply to feed their families; but spilling the blood of their comrades tends to make them more supportive of the totalitarian, not less. The key to dethroning the misleaders is to erode their power base.

  7. rationaloptimist Says:

    Followup: Last night White House spokesman Jay Carney said Gadhafi’s legitimacy had gone to zero. (He had some before?) But, according to NPR, Carney “stopped short” of calling upon Gadhafi to “step down.”
    What kind of mealy-mouthed weasely administration is this? I am ashamed of my government.
    Stopping short of calling for his death — well, maybe. But being too timid to call for his “stepping down” — let alone his overthrow — is simply disgraceful. What, in Heaven’s name, is this administration afraid of?

  8. Lee Says:

    Obama should boldly support the underlying cause; there is no excuse for anything but real democracy in Libya. If he hasn’t done that he’s a poop. (Sorry, I have little kids.) But, calling for his death or overthrow is unnecessary and, perhaps, counterproductive, if he survives it all. If Qaddafi wants to save face by having real elections (and soon!) in which he is voted out of office — what’s the harm in that?

    We can always put him on trial afterwards.

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