From Today's FT:
Inside Obama’s not-at-war room
By Robert Shrimsley
Published: March 16 2011 21:49 | Last updated: March 16 2011 21:49
The leader of the free world is debating Libyan intervention with his closest advisers.
Obama: So what are we going to do to support the Arab democrats?
The ones in Libya. They are taking a shellacking.
Actually, Mr President, our intelligence has classified it as a hammering; Secretary Gates is not ready to upgrade it to a shellacking.
When will he be ready to do that?
After they’ve been crushed, sir.
Shouldn’t we be helping democrats against a brutal dictatorship?
Are we sure they are democrats, Mr President?
Second aide: Didn’t we do this meeting last month?
That was Egypt. . . or Tunisia.
Obama: Well, that seemed to work out; what did we do then?
We positioned ourself carefully behind the curve and immediately backed whatever had happened the day before. It was cost-effective and it worked, sir. Your strategy of protracted hesitation has paid dividends in a number of theatres.
David Plouffe prefers to call it the evaluate-and-decide strategy.
I apologise Mr President, I thought that was our Afghan strategy. I understood we’d moved on to an “evaluate and then evaluate some more” strategy here.
The forces in Benghazi may only have a few days left.
Yes Sir, the Secretary hopes this problem will be off your desk by Friday.
So don’t we need to act now? What about a no-fly zone.
Secretary Gates is strongly in favour of a no-fly zone, Mr President. He says all talk of intervention must be shot down immediately. He advises we do all we can to assist the rebels short of actually helping them.
I have spoken out many times on the need for Gaddafi to go.
Yes Mr President, Secretary Gates has long felt that your words can speak louder than our actions. He added that should you wish to make an inspiring speech on the matter, he’d very much like to be there.
Obama: What are the risks of intervening in Libya?
The risk is that we face another Iraq where we are dragged into a foreign war from which we cannot extricate ourselves. What’s more, there’s also strong evidence that democrats would not support it.
Really, which democrats?
The ones in New Hampshire, Sir. There is also the issue of double standards Mr President. Can we be seen to support rebels in one place while acquiescing in their suppression somewhere else.
We must back hope against fear; fright against might; the oppressed against the oppressors.
Is that everywhere, Sir, or on a case by case basis?
Which case did you have in mind?
I see your point.
As you know Mr President, the Saudis have already gone in to quell the protests in Bahrain. They will not let the Crown Prince fall.
That doesn’t sound good. What influence can we bring to bear?
We’ve told the Saudis to use restraint, Sir.
What does that mean?
They’ll try not to kill anyone on camera and restrict brutal crackdowns to the hours of darkness.
That seems a measured approach. We must be careful about the signal we send to our ruling friends and allies in the region. They need to know we will not desert them in their hours of need; that America is a true and loyal friend. They need to know that we will not cut and run at the first whiff of trouble.
We want them to know that we only cut and run when trouble hits at least its second or third whiff.
Yes Mr President.
OK, now what am I going to do about the Europeans. David Cameron is leaving lots of messages with my secretary. I’ll have to get back to him sooner or later.
The Brits are pressing for a no-fly zone over Libya.
That’s pretty easy to do when you’ve abolished the Royal Air Force What’s he planning to police it with, a British Airways 737? Thank you for joining us on this routine patrol; we will be circling Benghazi for a few hours. Insurgents are invited to help themselves to snacks and drinks from our trolleys.
The French are also demanding actual intervention, Mr President.
We’re being out-hawked by the French?
We think it’s empty rhetoric, Sir.
I’m being outgunned on rhetoric?
Thursday, March 17, 2011
From Today's FT: