When demonstrators began protesting in Egypt, it took Barack Obama eight days before demanding a “transition” from power for nominal US ally Hosni Mubarak, even though Mubarak had largely allowed the demonstrations to proceed without significant violence. It took twice as long, and a week after finally getting Americans out of the country, for Obama to demand that Moammar Gaddafi give up power, even though Gaddafi has been using military force against his people for two weeks.
The fact that the president has waited so long to make any public gesture in this direction, and the forum in which he addressed Qaddafi—a joint press conference with the president of Mexico—surely detracts from any power his words might have carried. So, too, does his reasoning: Qaddafi, says Obama, “has lost the legitimacy to lead”—a phrase which combines turgid language with the implication that Qaddafi, who staged a coup d’état and has exercised dictatorial power since 1969, was ever Libya’s “legitimate” leader. Informing Qaddafi that he has lost the “legitimacy to lead” lacks the unambiguous impact of Cromwell’s famous rebuke to the Long Parliament—”Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”—but at this stage in the protracted Libyan struggle, it is better than nothing.
Explain, please, how a terrorist-supporting dictator has “legitimacy to lead.” We may have to deal with such regimes as a matter of national interest (and because we have little power to remove them), but we don’t have to contribute to their notions of legitimacy.
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Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!