The real story in Libya is not that there was a local terrorist attack. It’s that the Libyan people sided with us over them after the attack. From yesterday’s Meet The Press, here’s Tom Friedman:
…we have completely missed this story, and it’s a great thing for America. Let’s– let’s forget which candidate it might– it might serve.
What happened immediately a day and a half after this incident in Libya? Thousands of Libyans, carrying pictures of our ambassador, voluntarily marched on the militia headquarters that did this and took these guys down.
That– that is one of the greatest successes for the United States possible. We didn’t have to do it. They did it, on their own.
And the fact that we’re not talking about that, but we’re talking about how many times you used the word terrorism and did you scratch your ear like [this], it’s nonsense.
I had made a similar point more broadly on the Massachusetts/Vermont radio station The River last month. But unlike Friedman, I don’t think we should forget which candidate it might serve, because that candidate’s policies are quite relevant to why it happened.
After 9/11/01, the dominant question was “why do they hate us?” In fact, then-President George W. Bush asked the question himself on 9/20/01, and proceeded to give a nonsensical answer: “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”
At the time, few stopped to note that in the same breath, Bush said they hate democratically elected governments and they hate the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan … all of which, at the time, were not democratically elected.
Bush followed his remarks with a foreign policy vision that believed democracy is the antidote to terrorism and it should be brought about at the point of a gun. Except when democracy produces leaders we don’t like — say, in Palestine — and then we drop support for elections and cut off funds. That approach only made them hate us more.
Obama has implemented a dramatically different vision. Yes, democracy is the antidote to terrorism, but only when it comes from the bottom-up, not from the bomber plane down.
When the Egyptians rose up against Mubarak, ,Obama did not give the dictator political cover to launch a crackdown, as many American president have done for autocratic allies in the past. Instead, Obama helped push him out. No bombs necessary.
And when the Egyptians elected someone to be president who wasn’t our best friend, Obama recognized the election and did not yank away funds.
So when anti-American protests rose from this anti-Islamic video, the new President may not have said exactly what we wanted him to say, but he did not join or encourage the protests. Police made 70 arrests. Anger of the video has not spread into a larger international crisis.
In Libya, unlike Egypt, military force was used to oust its dictator. But it was at the request of the Libyan people, and it was a UN-backed mission that could not be pilloried as an American imperialist project. In fact, it appears Obama would not have acted unless the UN was on board, under the logic that it could not be successful otherwise.
As we can see today, the response from the Libya people in the face of a terrorist attack is 180 degrees different than what we suffered in the aftermath of the essentially unilateral Iraq invasion.
President Obama’s truly pro-democracy foreign policy is unlike anything ever attempted in American history. A willingness to oust dictators even when they are allies. A belief in real international coalitions as a prerequisite to military action abroad to defend human rights.
And it’s working.
There will always be radical militants who embrace terrorism, reject democracy and cannot be appeased. But they cannot sustain themselves without sympathy from a broader Muslim public that hates us.
And when our policies square with our values, they will have no reason to hate us.