Our Modern-Day Cassandra

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a seer whose prophesies always came true — but never in the way the audience expected. One king sought her counsel over whether to go to war, and she told him that if he did, a great empire would fall. He did, and one did — his. It’s a recurring motif in Greek mythology — one cannot escape one’s fate, and the harder one tried, the surer it would come to pass.


We have our own modern-day Cassandras, people who make dire predictions — and then inadvertently help them come true in their struggles to avoid letting them come to pass.


On Sunday, I made a point of avoiding a lot of the 9/11 coverage. That meant that I had a second reason to ignore Andrew Sullivan, the first being… well, he’s Andrew Sullivan. But later, I stumbled upon a roundup by Ron Radosh that featured a rather interesting quote from The World’s Greatest Expert On Sarah Palin’s Uterus:


The bait was meant to entice the United States into ruinous, polarizing religious warfare against the Muslim world, so that the Islamist fringe could seize power in failing Muslim and Arab dictatorships. The 9/11 attacks were conceived as a way to radicalize a young Muslim population through a ginned-up war of civilization against the Great Satan on the Islamist home turf of Afghanistan and, then, Iraq. It looks obvious now. It wasn’t then. We were seized with righteous rage, every ounce of which was justified. But the victim of a rape is not the best person to initiate the strategy to bring the rapist to justice. And we, alas, were all we had. Our president, meaning well, did his best, and it was more than good, at the beginning. But in retrospect, he never mastered the fear or the moment either. Instead of calming the populace over the coming months, he further terrified us with drastic measures that only seemed to confirm the unprecedented gravity of the threat.


It occurred to me that this “grand plan” is actually coming to fruition. In two nations, dictatorships have been overthrown by radical Muslim extremists.  So Sullivan was right.


Well, actually, he wasn’t. Because there is  far, far simpler causal relationship to be drawn than Sullivan’s. He would have you believe that Bush so outraged and inflamed the Muslim world, that they waited nearly ten years and long after he left power to respond to his outrageous provocations.


Egypt and Libya both had long-serving dictators who were overthrown by popular uprisings just in the past few months. Both dictators were allies of the US — not friends, definitely, but certainly allies — Mubarak and K-Daffy both had come to realize that being on the US’ good side was definitely more beneficial to their political and personal survival than being on our shit list. (Mubarak always held that belief; it took the example of Saddam Hussein to persuade K-Daffy.) And both men were essentially abandoned by the US after President Bush left office — and President Obama took power.


Those are the facts. Those are indisputable. Egypt and Libya, for whatever reason, were quite helpful to us in our War on Terror while Mubarak and K-Daffy held power. And I am under no illusions that they did so out of the good of their hearts; it was purely because they saw it in their best interests to do so. And likewise it was in our best interests to keep them on our side.


But those relationships were re-evaluated by the Obama administration. In Egypt’s case, it’s certainly debatable how much they could have done — the rebellion was a populist movement, aimed at Mubarak’s domestic policies. He was probably pretty much a goner from day one. But in Libya, we were decisive — it’s fairly clear that the Libyan rebels would have been crushed had not Obama, swayed by France and Italy, who saw definite financial gains should K-Daffy go, ordered an UnWar to help topple him.


And now we see the fruits of those actions. In Egypt, the militant Muslims Sullivan warned us about are starting to flex their muscles, threatening the decades-old peace with Israel. Just this last week Egyptian “rioters” stormed and trashed the Israeli embassy — which some of you might recall is considered sovereign Israeli territory and therefore an act of war. And in Egypt, we’re also getting signs that the Muslim Brotherhood — the “father” of the radical Islamic movement, which is affiliated with or spun off the most troublesome Islamic terrorist groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinians’ Hamas — is having significant influence.


If Sullivan wasn’t so thoroughly deranged, he might draw a different conclusion — that it wasn’t Bush’s aggression, but Obama’s passivity that is fueling (at least in part) this move to overthrow American allies. Other nations have undergone similar turmoil. In Syria, the populist uprisings are being suppressed far more brutally, with far less complaints. In Iran, the would-be “Green Revolution” was crushed after Obama specifically and deliberately chose to not even comment. And in Lebanon, we stood by quietly while Syria and their puppet Hezbollah crushed their freedom movement — and now Hezbollah is pretty much the de facto government in that nation.


Of all people, Osama Bin Laden foresaw this. In the 1990’s, he stated that in the Muslim world, if given a choice between backing a “strong horse” or a “weak horse,” the masses would inevitably choose the strong horse.


Say what you want about Bush, in the Muslim world he was seen as a “strong horse.” In very brief order after 9/11, Bush ordered the toppling of two Muslim regimes — and both fell very quickly. The wisdom of both moves are debatable (I still think both were correct, but this is not overly relevant for this point), but they reminded the world that should the US choose to get rid of any regime, that regime was history — and very quickly, with little fuss and not that much effort on our part.


But with Obama, American power is seen as… well, not diminished, but far more restrained. Obama has virtually made a key point of his foreign policy to diminish America’s military might. Even in the cases he has flexed our muscles, he’s made a point of showing restraint. The killing of the Somali pirates and the raid on Bin Laden were done by a select group of Special Forces and were closer to assassinations than military attacks. (I am not making moral judgments here; indeed, I approved of both actions. But they were not demonstrations of America’s military power.) And in Libya, Obama made a point of declaring that we were simply following the lead of our allies (while still doing the majority of the work ourselves) and strictly limited our involvement.


In an ideal world, Obama’s principles would win us respect and admiration. But it’s not an ideal world — it’s a most uncouth world. The phrase “nasty, brutish, and short” sums it up quite nicely. And in such a world, it’s far safer to be respected than to be admired. (This is an adaptation of the dictator’s aphorism about it being better to be feared than loved.) I’m not quite certain what Obama’s goal is, but it certainly isn’t about maintaining the respect for America’s power that President Bush emphasized.


When Bush was in office, I got the impression that his idea of foreign policy was an application of the United States Marine Corps’ aphorism — “no better friend, no worse enemy.” Under Obama, the most coherent policy seems to be “we’re sorry we’re so strong; please like us anyway.” Whether this is an improvement over the previous “whatever Bush did, we’ll do the opposite” policy remains to be seen.


I’m not optimistic.

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