Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

War of Empty Words

As usual, the air is filled with sounds but nobody is saying much. In this era of certainty about everything, Libya has exposed the soft underbelly of politics and punditry by reducing expertise to abandoning omniscience and belaboring the obvious.

A New York Times editorial, after describing Qaddafi as "a thug and a murderer who has never paid for his many crimes, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103," hems and haws about the action against him, reviews what's happened and takes no position beyond "There is much to concern us," raising obvious questions:

"What will the United States and its allies do if the rebels cannot dislodge Colonel Qaddafi? At a minimum, they must be ready to maintain indefinite sanctions on the regime while helping the rebels set up a government, should they actually win. Mr. Obama should have brought Congress more into the loop on his decision, and must do so now."

The PBS News Hour trots out two old war horses, former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, to discuss "Turmoil in Arab World: Deepening Divisions or Turning a New Page?" and gets the answers: both or maybe neither with Scowcroft slightly more dubious about Libya than the often-wrong-but-never-in doubt Zbig.

As grateful as we should be about exposure of emptiness in all the usual political blather, this time of tense expectancy over whether we get bogged down in yet another Arab war reminds us that, in most of what matters in today's world, there are no simple answers only better questions.

The most important of all is "What are we doing in the Middle East?" As the Libyan adventure starts to eat up all the budget savings that Democrats and Republicans are fighting over in Washington, shouldn't we be reexamining all the assumptions on both sides that have led us into what we are doing now not only there but in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and who-knows-what covertly in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere?

At the very least, such a serious and open debate would provide a context for all the meaningless speechifying that is now going on over Libya.

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