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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Altered Consciousness: Decisively indecisive

Published: March 25, 2011
Section: Opinions

One pattern concerning the current administration is that President Obama simply cannot make a decision for his life.

Take Libya for instance. Initially, Obama equivocated, pouted and prevaricated. He said Colonel Qaddafi must stop the violence. He imposed some sanctions. He stated that the International Criminal Court should indict him, that the Arab League ought to help out and that the United Nations should get involved. Meanwhile, Qaddafi continued his murderous rampage.

Ultimately, after more than three long weeks, Obama did not make a decision on the matter; instead the United Nations Security Council did it for him.

There are good arguments for and against intervening in Libya. Advocates state that Qaddafi would massacre his own people and destabilize the region and the flow of oil. Additionally, the unhinged authoritarian could return to his old nuclear-weapons-building terrorism-supporting ways with a vengeance after the uprising is suppressed. Furthermore, Qaddafi’s victory would encourage massive brutality from other beleaguered dictators and would signal a decline in Western credibility.

Conversely, promoters of the opposite view judge intervention as hypocritical, considering other humanitarian crises around the world. They also warn of mission creep, another Iraq, the possibility of an Islamist takeover or further instability in Libya, and the notion that Arabs would view foreign interference as being imperialist in nature.

My point though is that Obama, as the leader of by far the most powerful country in the world, ought to have taken a stand, pro or con or neutral, stuck by it and acted upon it. This he did not, until his beloved international community pushed him into doing so.

Certainly Libya is not the first example of such behavior. In Egypt, Obama was all over the place: Hosni Mubarak should stay, go, make concessions, negotiate with the opposition, call for free elections, stay again, etc. Again, Obama did not make the decision; the people of Egypt rallying in Tahrir Square as well as the military, which feared the loss of legitimacy if they started shooting the protesters, did, without even considering the president the United States. We are witnessing similar murkiness in regards to the situations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen, among other places.

Alternatively, if Obama does issue a pronouncement, it inevitably disappoints everyone. Back in 2009, after months of consultations, in-depth seminars, hearings and review sessions, he resolved that he would increase troop levels in Afghanistan and then draw them back a few months later. The subsequent reaction by most commentators was rightful confusion. Or remember the Park 51 mosque controversy last year? He stated that he valued the right to have religious freedom, but then questioned the wisdom of constructing the building near Ground Zero. People had the same reaction: which side are you on?

This vacillation is not limited to foreign policy. Obama left all of the dirty work involved with writing the health reform bill to Congress. And on the 2012 budget, he is once again letting Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House brawl it out, rather than get too personally involved.

Like him or not, our prior president, George W. Bush, had convictions, a sense of moral clarity and purpose, hearkening back to Ronald Reagan. When he stated that Saddam Hussein must relinquish all weapons of mass destruction or else, he meant it. When he declared that all human beings living under tyranny and despotism deserve individual freedom and the right to elect their own rulers, he truly believed it.

People elected President Obama in part because he was the antithesis of Bush and his perceived recklessness. But instead of choosing a leader who makes judgments not on impulse but on carefully calculated reason, we got someone who seems perpetually paralyzed. You cannot run a country where the tiniest minutiae of every issue are analyzed ad nauseum, or where you fear that if you take a stand, it will be too offensive, politically costly or provocative. In short, you can’t vote present, like Obama did as a State Senator in Illinois 129 times.

So alas, I beseech our hesitant president: do something, the world is watching.