Monday, March 21, 2011

Obama the gambler

When Barack Obama was elected, I knew I wasn't going to like everything he did. But I took comfort from the confidence that, finally, after 8 anxious years, I wouldn't have to wake up to NPR telling me about the latest country the US had bombed. This guy was too smart to take the country breezily into unsupported and unsupportable wars.

Oops. Here we go again. The Libyan adventure may prove to be a blow for emerging international civilization -- or just the beginning of yet another bloody stalemate that devolves into a seemingly inescapable quagmire. Time will tell. Our careful, cautious President throws dice.

He also adopted what Andrew Sullivan has rightly called a "Shut up and leave it to us" posture. No Congressional discussions (not that the current bunch have shown themselves capable of serous deliberation); no effort even to sell this adventure to the people. There's contempt in the President's stance both for constitutionally mandated process and for democratic politics itself. He's betting this can be done and over before most of us become engaged with what is happening.

This seems a rather cavalier high stakes bet with human lives to me.
The good news this morning is that four New York Times journalists captured last week by Colonel Qaddafi's forces have been released. Two of them are people whose work I was following because it gave me some flavor of the Libyan fighting.

Anthony Shadid reported extensively from Iraq for the Washington Post; he's gone on to travel the Arab world for the Times. His picture of the Libyan rebels in this March 13 dispatch is the most close-up description I've seen of folks we've now gone to war for.

... the front at Ras Lanuf is the most militarized version of Tahrir Square in Cairo, where hundreds of thousands wrote a script of opposition and street theater that brought down a strongman everyone thought would die in office. The fighting here feels less like combat in the conventional sense and more like another form of frustrated protest.

Some vehicles bear the inscription Joint Security Committee, but nothing is all that coordinated across a landscape that seems anarchic and lacking in leadership. Fighters don leather jackets from Turkey, Desert Fox-style goggles, ski masks, cowboy hats and World War II-era British waistcoats.

Slogans are scrawled in the street just miles from the fighting. “Muammar is a dog,” one reads. A man who bicycled for three days from Darnah, far to the east, became a local celebrity at the front. Free food is offered, as it was in the canteens in Tahrir, and fighters rummaged through donated clothes. “These are American jeans!” one shouted.

Young men revel in the novelty of having no one to tell them not to play with guns. “God is great!” rings out whenever a volley of bullets is fired into the air.

Go read it all as you wonder what Obama has gotten the country into.

As someone who has tried to photograph strange and chaotic scenes myself, I have been in awe of the stark yet sometimes beautiful pictures of desert combat from the Libyan fighting. Before he was captured, Times photographer Tyler Hicks was interviewed about the extraordinary images he was filing.

No one realized that this was going to escalate in the way it has, given how things happened in some other Arab countries. No one really thought this was going to become such a war, fought on open ground.

One unusual thing is the access we have to frontline fighting. Despite what a lot of people think, when you go to a war zone, there are a lot of formalities and difficulties to reach the fighting. You can get into a country but to get to where the conflict is happening can be very difficult. This is a very rare situation: complete access to a war, from the opposition side. ...

Conflict is very difficult to capture in a still photograph. Once you take away the sound and the motion, when you’re trying to capture that feeling and that atmosphere, it’s very difficult to translate — what it feels like to be there, the confusion and gunfire and bombs and all these things that envelop you in battle. To take a single photograph of that is a challenge.

Did you do it today?

I always try.

Here's one of his photos. Go read the whole article.

1 comment:

Belisariusorb said...

Though we've disagreed on the wisdom of pursuing the policy of enforcing the UN 1973 mandate, I absolutely agree with you (and with Sullivan) that Obama has utterly failed to sell his policy to his own public or his allies.

Instead he went off on a Latin American trip and left the vital business of justifying armed intervention to his minions.

Naturally he should have appeared in Congress, as the French and British leaders were doing in their own countries, to justify the action and seek parliamentary support. And he should also have gone on to appear on every major news channel to answer questions.

But he didn't do any of that. Instead he went off to Brazil to get snubbed by the Brazilian PM and dance capoeira.

Puzzling - the leader of the country which prides itself on the greatest political accountability in the world feels he can just issue a decree and everyone will just go along with it.

Out of touch cubed.

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