The recent revealing photos of Francois Hollande's evening escapade together with the sudden hospitalization of the erstwhile (?) partner/First Lady Val￩rie Trierweiler raise most interesting questions. Specifically, together with the blowback from the Snowden/NSA revelations we are obviously entering a new era of defining the private/public domains. While we all appreciate how technology has brought the world closer together, the invasion of privacy issue can no longer be ignored. We certainly like to communicate, but we are getting worried that most if not all of our private communications have entered the public domain.
Hollande's January 14 press conference was riveting.
Inviting people to a party is not always simple. Besides the logistical problem of deciding exactly how many people should be invited and anticipating how many will come, there is the more subtle problem of anticipating who will get along with who. Are these people friends? Does this couple know this couple? Should we try to introduce this unmarried woman to this bachelor? Who should seat next to whom? And the list goes on.
In March 2009, Hillary Clinton presented Sergey Lavrov with a reset button in Geneva. The symbolic gesture was to usher in a new era of a cooperative relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation. No more missile crisis, no more pounding shoes on a desk at the United Nations. If the fall of the Berlin Wall had symbolized the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the gift of the reset button was supposed to symbolize the beginning of positive cooperation.
Things did not work out that way. President Medvedev was replaced by President Putin and the atmosphere surrounding his relationship with Barack Obama has been described as chilly at best. The high (or low) point of that relationship occurred when President Obama canceled a meeting with the Russian President in Moscow before the recent G20 summit in St. Petersburg. The ostensible reason for the cancellation was the Federation’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, considered a traitor by the United States for leaking secret information about the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping activities, an obvious poke in the eye to the United States.
How are we to understand the meeting in Geneva between Lavrov and John Kerry on September 12? How are we to understand the U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria? Is this the beginning of a true reset in the relationship?
President Obama has made two decisions that are fundamentally undemocratic. No, I do not mean the potential bombing of Syria nor the request for Congress’ approval. First, President Obama has decided that his intelligence service’s analysis that President Assad has used chemical weapons is correct. Second, he has decided that he, representing the United States, speaks for the entire world. “I didn’t draw the red line, “ he said. “The international community drew the red line.”
Democracy is not just a system of voting. It is based on the recognition that others have the right to decide what an entire population should do. In a democracy, those in the minority must accept the majority’s will. The minority accepts the majority’s decision hoping that sometime in the future the roles will be reversed.
A debate is raging about President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next United States Secretary of Defense. Behind this debate is another debate about the future role of the United States in the world. On the one hand, conservative critics are accusing Hagel of being reluctant to intervene militarily to protect Israel or to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. On the other hand, progressives are cheering the potential national security team of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and John Brennan as being realistic about the limited possibilities for projecting U.S. power. Their preference for “light footprints” or “leading from behind” is seen in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s bellicose foreign policy.
The events marking the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11 will be filled with the horrors of the deaths of 3,000 people. We will be shown the playback of the tragic scenes of those jumping from windows, of the crumbling of the World Trade Center Towers, of the plane crashing into the Pentagon. Survivors will be asked how they are dealing with the past; relatives will share their enormous grief. Loved ones will have their virtues extolled. Heroic firefighters and policemen will be interviewed. We will all mourn. We will properly pay our respects to all those who died in the United States as well as around the world in terrorist attacks.
Could the commemorative services also serve another function? I recently walked the beaches of Normandy. Hectares after hectares of crosses and monuments and dedications to those who lost their lives in the landings of June 1944. With time, the heroism of those actions continues to impress and to humble. We are certain that we are all better off for the sacrifices of those buried there.
Where has the War on Terror led us?
The bombing of Libya has started. For those who are against any form of violence as well as for those dedicated to protecting civilians and overthrowing dictators, you have had your say. Absolutes are always easy to defend. For those who believe in real politics, that is the agonizing choices involving ambiguity, tradeoffs and unforeseen consequences, the unfolding bombing is not simple to defend or condemn.
On the positive side, obviously, is the United Nations Resolution and the fact that there is a legitimized multilateral force. This is neither a unilateral action nor merely a Western one. If Russia were displeased it could have vetoed the Resolution; if the Arab League were displeased it could have condemned any intervention. And, the Resolution is clear; permission has been given to take out air defense systems and establish a no-fly zone. No foreign occupation or soldiers on the ground are permitted. All of this in the name of protecting civilians, not regime change. The people of Benghazi asked for help.
On the other hand, the Russian Prime Minister has said that the military action reminds him of a "medieval crusade". Why intervene in Libya and not Yemen or the Ivory Coast? The Congress in the United States is complaining that they were not consulted about sending troops or declaring war. There is the inevitable collateral damage to civilians. And many are saying that the United States is too far in front, and that the bombing has already gone beyond what was permitted. Mission creep appears to be setting in.
The United States military has said that the basic objectives are close to being met. President Obama has also stated that the United States will not be in the frontline for the long haul; it will turn over leadership to others. The French are certainly looking for a greater role.
What will happen? As in any military activity, the fog of war will settle in. Even if there is a cessation of the bombing, violence will continue in Libya. Colonel Qaddafi, we imagine, is not ready to retire. Deep divisions between the clans in Libya will not disappear. And the international community appears unprepared to send thousands of troops as peacemakers or a peacekeeping force.
Officials and observers will continue to monitor events. Decisions will be made and analyzed. But, for those who have already decided, or who decided even before the bombing started, there can be no discussion. That is the benefit of simplistic absolutes. Real politics is much more difficult to live and explain; deciding between bad choices is what real politics is all about.
March 22, 2011