It seems like the United States and its allies embark on creating a new crisis every week. This has led some historians to begin calling the Obama era "The Crisis Presidency." You know why: Since taking office, he has tackled the aftermath of the 2008 stock market meltdown, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the near collapse of the housing market, economic stagnation, and unyielding unemployment.
Add to this the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cross-border chaos of the Mexican drug cartels, the shootings in Tucson, the earthquake in Haiti, Russian hostility, a rising militant China, the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and meltdown of its nuclear plants and now the "Arab spring revolutions," and now Libya.
There's hardly a commercial break for us to take a collective pause, to exhale and catch up with recent developments. The world seems out of order. What now?
Foreign policy experts and correspondents who understand the profound complexity of the Middle East and north African uprisings are pulling for the United States to get more deeply engaged — and to act decisively to halt the innocent slaughter of the Libyan people.
But, here at home, politicians are doing what they seem to do all the time now — pull the country apart when we should be united around the principles of using U.S. military power to avert a massive humanitarian crisis in Libya and elsewhere.
Speaker John Boehner sent President Obama a letter outlining a series of questions that can be answered in short order. Boehner, like a handful of other lawmakers, is demanding the president "clearly define" U.S. policy in Libya. Indeed, this is what the president has attempted to do, but perhaps members of Congress (who are currently on spring break) need a more formal address to get the message.
Lawmakers and all Americans deserve to have an answer to "what now?" What are we going to do next now that the no-fly zone has been implemented? Who will take over command and control? What about the rebels and will Gadaffi remain in power?
The U.N. mandate should guide some of our thinking since the United States led the discussion and passage of the resolution. It states that military action should be exclusively used to stop Gadaffi from massacring Libyan citizens. Removing Gadaffi is off-limits. Obama supports this U.N. mandate and he will not use our military might to go after Gadaffi.
There is nothing contradictory in that it is also Obama's policy to see that Gadaffi leaves by the use of diplomatic weapons. President Obama has many tools outside the limited scope of "Operation Odyssey Dawn."
Obama was instrumental in getting the U.N. Security Council to refer Gadaffi's "crimes against humanity" to the International Criminal Court. With Gadaffi branded a criminal, removing Gadaffi becomes the world's issue, rather than an "American imperialist crusade against an Arab leader" as some Arab commentators are alleging.
Obama said he is "tightening the noose" around Gadaffi's neck, and he is doing just that by freezing billions in assets and restricting his moves. But this kind of work requires patient diplomacy. There are other instruments like imposing an arms embargo, cooperation with the Libyan Rebels and stopping Gadaffi from bringing in foreign fighters to kill innocent people.
The president's hands are full, but not tied. Events almost outpace our ability to mobilize and respond. The U.N. coalition Obama forged is an extraordinary diplomatic feat. Yet it needs nurturing and political patience at home. This works slowly, especially as the United States builds multilateral support for the mission that will require both our European allies and the Arab world to assist in taking over some of the duties we have started.
Some U.S. senators are asking legitimate questions about the Libyan revolutionaries. Who are they? What are their aims in Libya? Are we buying a "pig in a poke?" In fact, the rebels themselves were busy sorting out who they are, and who is in charge.
The Obama administration has been at work here too by sending in special operation forces to both gather intelligence and to ensure we're hitting the right military targets and not civilians. Just recently, the U.S. Special Ops forces made contact with the rebels and arranged a meeting with the highest administration officials. Secretary Hillary Clinton had "intense meetings" with both the Arab League and a rebel leader on behalf of the Obama administration.
With encouragement, the rebels formed a National Transitional Council on February. It is composed of high-level officials who defected from Gadaffi and members of the City Council of Benghazi, the rebel capital in the East.
The Libyan rebels are (just like the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt) united as one in their singular goal to end the dictatorship of Gadaffi.
The "Arab spring" (as the Arab uprisings are known) is an extraordinary mass movement by, for and of the peoples of the Middle East. They are claiming control of their destinies.
We are walking a maddening tight rope. It is the greatest of ironies that the U.N. humanitarian intervention that Obama cobbled together commenced air bombardment of Gadaffi military forces on the very same day former president George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003.
This coincidence was not lost on Arab revolutionaries who tweeted the two events around the Middle East like a ping-pong ball in a closed chamber. Because of feelings like this, in keeping with his Cairo policy, Obama is insisting other nations (especially Arab) share in the leadership.
A Nobel Peace Prize winner should be able to do that and more.