In Egypt and Libya, the U.S. is opting for diplomacy first

The coming March 20 will mark the 8th year anniversary of the second Iraq war. While combat operations have been scaled back, the presence of American troops on Iraqi soil is not about to end soon. Listening to the cable news pundits debate how Obama should respond to Tunisia and Egypt—and lately Libya—you would think very little has been learned either there or in Afgghanistan.

The events in Libya are more complicated because of the violent repression, but they show the administration has resisted a march to war. Compare the comments of current Defense Secretary Robert Gates to those of Donald Rumsfeld in the buildup to the war in Iraq, and you will see the U.S. will now exhaust all the diplomatic efforts before ever engaging militarily. And well it should.

I agree Colonel Gadhafi’s actions deserve an international response if we’re to avoid a humanitarian castastrophy. But this has become an international crisis above all, and not solely an American-Libyan one. It is up to the United Nations Security Council and NATO to play out their roles and responsibilities to end the conflict and the Gadhafi regime.

Some pundits speak of a longing for the so-called ‘Freedom Agenda’ of the Bush years. What they cannot explain is why it never included those U.S.-friendly autocratic regimes in the region. Others speak of Obama’s weakness in the American response to Gadhafi, yet waffle on the nature of the best follow through. Nothing worse than sabre-rattling where the walk does not match the talk.

Gates was very clear last week in response to those arguing for a no-fly zone over Libya when he said that it meant a military operation. Without the international community backing such a course of action, it would be a U.S.-only operation. The American population is not interested in another war.

The revolutionary events in the Middle East are transformative and no one in authority can accurately predict the ultimate outcome. But those Obama critics who have taken to claiming the Cairo Speech was meaningless should re-read a significant passage:

“America does not presume to know what is best for everyone,” Obama said. “[…] But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

Obama may have sparked a vision, but each nation is responsible for its revolution. And when conflict arises, America should be looking to diplomacy first to end the confrontation.

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