I don’t know enough about what’s going on in Libya to know whether or not Obama made the right move in starting a war we won’t call a war there. If indeed we saved tens of thousands of civilians from massacre then I think we probably did what we had to do. Extra props for finally intervening in an African country before it was too late. But let’s be honest, does anyone trust anything after the Iraq/WMD fiasco?
What I do feel qualified to weigh in on is some of the criticism Obama has received in the wake of the intervention. Much of the criticism coming from the right centers around Obama entering into a war reluctantly (I guess as opposed to enthusiastically) and Obama letting other nations take some of the lead. The criticism related to the constitutionality of what we are doing in Libya I think is a conversation worth having. Reluctance and leadership though? I think not.
First, reluctance. It is true, Obama didn’t seem too enthusiastic about bombing the shit out of another country that is not attacking us. He did allow the Libyan uprising to play out for a little while before making a decision. His goal is not full invasion with regime change. He has not declared that Libyan democracy will introduce a new era of peace and prosperity for the Arab world, that our intervention will bring our superior culture to a backward region of the world. Good for him. I’m glad killing a bunch of people took some thought. I’m glad he expressed some reluctance to intervene in another country’s internal struggle. I’m glad he didn’t gleefully throw the muslim world under the boss announcing that he would save them from themselves. Reluctance is a positive both on moral grounds and pragmatically. By showing reluctance, by showing patience and deliberation, by not wanting to be there Obama is signaling not only that he is reasonable and probably not an imperialist but that his intentions are somewhere in the area of face-value. In the Arab world that is priceless. After so many decades of the West not showing reluctance before violating the sovereignty of the region’s nations we were in need of at least a smidge of credibility before diving in to yet another incursion.
Closely related to reluctance is the focus on letting other countries take the lead even if that lead is more in letter than spirit. After all, we are still providing the vast majority of the muscle in this war. But this time we actually have a real coalition, where the rhetoric and passion of other countries are further out in front than our own. And even more importantly, there is some Arab backing for this particular intervention into the Arab world. I’m having a hard time seeing how this could be a bad thing. War isn’t about glory. War is about fulfilling the mission, improving the world, preventing evil from vanquishing good and protecting our interests to the best of our abilities. Let the French and the Brits have their day. Let the rest of the region be our partners rather than our adversaries. If that means we have to show a little humility then so be it. We also get to share some of the responsibility and some of the cost both human and financial. This doesn’t make us weak. It makes us strong. After all, we are still accomplishing what we want to accomplish.
There are valuable lessons here for the education reform movement. To date much has been made of the ed reformers refusing to compromise, refusing to collaborate, using rhetoric that casts any opposition as evil. In many cases there are good reasons that the ed reformers act the way they do. In many cases there are good reasons everyone else is pissed off at them. I’m unapologetic about supporting the current wave of reformers but I’m also sympathetic to the feelings of those who are being run over. If the ed reformers could take half a step back, not to compromise their values but to share the glory. If they could show a little humility, not because they are wrong but because they need to give people room to be persuaded. If they could show a little reluctance, not to stop pushing ahead in an effort to improve the lives of students who aren’t getting a fair shot but to signal that the difficult decisions they make are in fact difficult. By showing flexibility, understanding and humanity while still standing by your values it show strength, not weakness. Taking no prisoners, coloring all dissent as damaging, evil opposition is a hallmark of insecurity. Because education reform is not about glory. It is about saving lives, creating a future where all kids have a chance at success even if they aren’t the type of heroes who get books written about them.