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The Realist Prism: Libya as Threat du Jour

Friday, March 11, 2011

The CNN effect is alive and well in 2011, even if its 2.0 incarnation might now be labeled the Al-Jazeera effect. The fact that U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are now talking about a "full spectrum of possible responses" to support the opposition to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and NATO is considering endorsing a "no-fly zone" over the embattled North African state -- even as the war in Afghanistan rages and Iraq is far from settled -- testifies to the ongoing power of the global media to drive even a superpower's foreign policy agenda. But although intervening on behalf of regime change in Libya has grabbed the attention of the commentariat, no such calls are heard for America to defend democracy just a bit further to the south and west, in the Ivory Coast, where a democratically elected president, Alassane Ouattara, has been unable to compel his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, to transfer power. Gbagbo's militias are using no less violent methods to hold on to power, but because the dramatic images have yet to saturate our television screens, pundits have not seen fit to gravely warn how Obama's "failure" to act jeopardizes U.S. global leadership.

There is a case to be made for U.S. intervention in Libya. My problem, however, is with the knee-jerk reaction of the foreign policy establishment to proclaim every new televised crisis as the "test" of whether America remains a global leader or whether the president, by not immediately dispatching U.S. military forces, is abdicating his responsibilities to defend U.S. interests and the U.S.-led international order. Indeed, stepping back to observe the big picture over the past six months, what is striking is the utter and complete incoherence of expert commentary on what America's interests are and what role the U.S. should be playing in the world. ...

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