Bill Kristol is disgusted at both the vacuity of Hillary’s pro forma denunciation and The One’s deafening silence. I wish I could join him on the latter, but I keep coming back to those two weeks of White House bumbling on Egypt. What reason is there to believe that anyone in Libya would care what Obama has to say? And why should we trust that an Obama statement today won’t be contradicted by a Jay Carney briefing tomorrow or a Frank Wisner interview on Thursday or a Joe Biden presser on Friday? If the worry is that the White House doesn’t seem concerned about violence, the Hillary clip below will reassure you. Not that it should have to — “no violence against protesters” was, after all, the one consistent demand that Obama made of Mubarak during the Cairo demonstrations — but of course, Qaddafi’s not going to listen to this anyway. A U.S. statement is thus purely perfunctory, which may help make us feel good about ourselves but achieves nothing meaningful on the ground. Without any real leverage, as the man himself once said, it’s … just words.
That said, precisely because talk is cheap here, it is odd that Obama hasn’t fired up the TOTUS for a paint-by-numbers “I condemn” statement. A reader e-mails that he might be worried about Qaddafi taking hostages among Americans who are momentarily trapped inside the country, but (a) that risk is inherent no matter what O does or doesn’t do and (b) in any case, Hillary’s statement presumably provides enough of a pretext. If I had to guess, my assumption would be that O’s lying low because he doesn’t want to lend any credence to Qaddafi’s ranting about the protests being an American plot or whatever. That was also a consideration in his early silence about the Green Revolution in Iran two years ago: When the opposition has some momentum and the regime starts screeching about the Great Satan, it’s best not to give them anything they can point to as evidence of interference. Hence the compromise by having Hillary speak. The White House has to say something, but by farming it out to a less visible player, they reduce Qaddafi’s ability to demagogue it. Or at least, that’s the theory; if Qaddafi cares, for whatever reason, what America thinks, at this point he’s probably the only one who does.
Just within the last half hour or so, the Security Council issued its own perfunctory statement denouncing violence against Libyan protesters. Whether there’s something more meaningful to come depends, I guess, on how ruthless Qaddafi gets over the next few days. Or maybe not. This is, after all, the UN we’re talking about.