Lincoln wanted McClellan to move Union forces with dispatch and decisiveness, to get after the Confederate Army and defeat it. McClellan preferred to study his options, to await developments, and play it safe. Were Lincoln with us today, he might well apply the same uncomplimentary sobriquet to President Obama's handling of the crisis in Libya and the other revolutionary uprisings against dictatorial governments across the Middle East. While European and other world leaders have shown no hesitation about condemning Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's murderous actions, Obama has displayed all the symptoms of a classic case of the same malady that ultimately led Lincoln to relieve McClellan and replace him with more vigorous leaders.
Libyan streets have run red with blood because for nearly a week Gadhafi has used mercenaries imported from Africa and Libyan solders still loyal to him to slaughter demonstrators in the streets. He's also used state-run television and radio to deliver rambling, semicoherent rants in which he promised death to his opponents and claimed they were simultaneously under the control of Osama bin Laden and hallucinogenic drugs. In response to such insanity and carnage, Obama's most decisive move thus far has been to dispatch Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva for talks next week at the U.N. Human Rights Council. Meanwhile, Obama is studying "the full range of options" that he might take.
It's not just the transparent temerity of Obama's response that is troubling, it's also his insistence on sublimating U.S. actions to those of the rest of the international community, as seen in his description of Clinton's assignment in Geneva: "There she'll hold consultations with her counterparts on events throughout the region and continue to ensure that we join with the international community to speak with one voice to the government and the people of Libya." The result is that the United States follows the international community instead of leading it, as the world's lone superpower ought to do, especially when a violent dictator is using the most repressive measures imaginable to maintain his grip on power.
This attitude that the United States can only legitimately act in concert with the rest of the world reflects Obama's mistaken view that American exceptionalism has been an obstacle to the advancement of human rights and world peace, rather than the world's beacon for democracy and individual freedom. That was the fundamental assumption underlying his World Apology Tour of 2009, and it has been reflected ever since in his reticence about aggressively asserting American support for people challenging tyranny in Iran and elsewhere throughout the Middle East. At least McClellan could plead that he hesitated because he was given false reports about the enemy he faced. With Obama, the problem is he has a false view of his fellow countrymen.