This letter to the editor by Roberta Cohen originally appeared in the Washington Post on March 2, 2011.
The Feb. 27 front-page story “Threat to Americans guided restrained Libya response” provided a persuasive argument for the Obama administration’s cautious initial reaction to mass killings in Libya: American citizens on the ground would have been endangered had the administration acted forcefully before they were removed. It was a responsible position, possibly the only responsible one, but there is a disturbing side effect.
Governments at war with their own populations may decide in the future that they can easily keep the United States at bay by threatening attacks on American diplomats and civilians. This is the worst kind of international blackmail in violation of the most basic precepts of international law. A strategy to challenge it is needed; otherwise such threats may regularly place in secondary position the international community’s responsibility to protect people against war crimes and crimes against humanity.
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.
It’s not about values in one category and interests in another. In the case of the two previous administrations, one Republican and one Democrat, they both saw it as congruous with counterterrorism efforts. This administration is not even claiming to find a balance. They’re throwing it all out the window.