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To Be or Not to Be in Libya
Everyone should applaud the new European muscularity, but understand it in a context of Obamism, in which the United States—unlike building past coalitions in which we gladly did the heavy lifting and faced the political fallout—has developed a new sort of ‘sneaky coalition’. We will shoot most of the cruise missiles, provide most of the air support and infrastructure, but outsource the visibility and credit to our European and Arab allies. Accordingly, they will like all this, because they will receive global kudos without expending a lot of blood and treasure.
As a result, Obama’s laureate status is not endangered by a third Middle East war against Muslims, and we are acting in accordance with a new multilateral posture sanctioned by the Arab League and the UN, although what we are actually doing is somewhat unclear.
Paradoxes abound: Obama soared to office talking about unpopular and illegitimate wars: yet, polls show he has not built public support to intervene nor obtained an October 2002-like approval from Congress; Obama was the reset un-Bush, but once again we are bombing an oil-rich Arab country for idealist purposes given the fact that opponents of the regime will lose if we don’t.
Perhaps readers might better fathom our aims; I cannot, since our generals and politicians insist that we are only doing no-fly zones that seem to include bombing ground targets, that we only wish to protect rebels, though intervened after the president demanded that Qaddafi step down but are not pursuing that goal, and so far have not explained why the difference in the American response compared to Iran slaughtering its protestors and Saudi Arabia intervening in Bahrain.
So far all I can come up with is the following: if there is a mass protest against a Middle East regime, and if it seems almost certain that the regime will fall, then the U.S. at the opportune time will insist that the regime does fall days before it does. That seems a better barometer than whether the regime is pro-US, anti-American, merely authoritarian than genocidal, theocratic, monarchial, oligarchic, or dictatorial, etc. Obama thought Qaddafi would go; he didn’t as planned; the pesky Europeans got up on their hind legs and made a stink, so now Obama is forced to enforce his rhetoric and to wage a sort of war against and not against Qaddafi, one that is and is more than a no-fly-zone, in support of and out in front of the Europeans. If Qaddafi falls, we will learn that it is due to Obama’s unappreciated and underscored efforts; if he does not, and things get Mogadishu like, then he reminds us why he adopted such a low-profile intervention.Published in General
Any leader, at any level, who isn’t willing to accept responsibility for their actions, or be the “face” of risk, is suspect.
Dear Professor Hanson, – “Obamism” ? Surely you recall the similarity between this word, and what Dorothy Parker named her pet canary. I am guessing, that was perhaps your intention.
I do not understand why the West is always frightened of admitting we act in our own best interests, and those frequently increase freedom and prosperity around the globe. Does anyone think that China, Russia or that corrupt lot of despots in the Middle East act any differently. We should stand on our record. It is infinitely better than almost anyone else, even if we don’t always live up to our own high standards.
Or perhaps President Obama was waiting for Gaddafi to collapse under the weight of his own ever- increasing epaulettes.
Excellent piece Victor.
I wonder how the recent Arab League criticisms of the bombing campaign will come into play.
Two words – Mission Creep
why we should ever take seriously the requests of such people is beyond me. i see such treacherous demagoguery as a very good reason to keep a minimal footprint in the region.
Doesn’t the President have 60 days before he needs to go to Congress? I’ve been hearing this criticism a lot recently. Otherwise I agree with your post.
I think John Ehrlichman invented the term for it–a modified limited hang-out. Something that looks like a courageous act, but doesn’t reveal any motives or take any responsibility.
I think this is what probably happened.
Obama did not want to intervene. Hillary did. So did McCain, other Republican and Democratic Senators, and some in his cabinet. There is evidence Gates opposed intervention.
However, Obama doesn’t really care. He is largely detached.
I think Hillary probably threatened to resign if something was not done.
Obama concluded he had to play along. He let Hillary take the ball and do what she could. He insisted on a UN resolution and a prominent role for the Europeans, possibly at Gates insistence. She put this all together. The Arab League’s support and the offer of a few Arab states to provide aircraft were bonuses.
Obama was probably surprised Hillary and her supporters pulled all of this off. Because she did he had no choice but to give his lukewarm blessing and then fly off to Rio.
The intent is for other nations to provide the bulk of the combat aircraft manning the no-fly zone. Everyone wants Gaddifi gone, but no one has a clear road map about how to make that happen.
Since this effort was thrown together in haste everyone is making it up as it goes along.
Hmmm…this sounds like that highly “nuanced” European approach we have heard about before. Unfortunately the Europeans are the masters at this little dance. If things do indeed get “Mogadishu like” that exit door will be quite crowded, and the U.S. and Obama will likely get left with both the blame and the responsibility for the clean-up.
So long as the adventure is just impressive flights over a de-fanged air-defense system, everyone is a an enthusiastic partner. We’ll see how they hold up when it get’s ugly on the ground, and smart bombs are not enough.
You’ve defined that which lacks any definition. Wonderfully concise.
I hope the breeze that blew Obama into this, blows him back out of it.
A decapitation strike wouldn’t bother me…Lockerbie, you know.
That’s really good, Victor. I’ll be quoting you on this one.
Where did the “no-fly zone” formulation come from? Governments? The press? Certainly the UN resolution goes beyond grounding Libyan planes. I’m not sure if the governments involved are attempting deceit with that phrase, or if the press is using it in lazy shorthand. Doubtless both. The only concrete limitation that has been stressed is the ruling out of a ground presence.
And while the resolution purposely avoids mention of regime change, all governments involved seem to be almost openly winking at that. It’s the only way the resolution makes sense. Otherwise you just leave and he starts the tanks rolling again. I do like the apparent policy of paying no heed to his declared cease-fires. That shows a welcome practical ruthlessness on the part of our allies.
It’s an awkward corner, UN action. We’d like the President to announce our goals clearly, but to do so would violate the terms of the resolution, even though all participants know what has to happen.
Worse than mission creep is quagmire creep. What if the “rebels” are not quite as unified as everybody imagines? The end of Gadaffi may not be the end of the civil war. It could end up looking a lot like Somalia. Then, what do we do?
First, we seize all of Kaddafi’s accessible overseas assets. Then we assure that no country will give him refuge.
Then we denounce him for not stepping down and being promptly strung up from a lamppost.
And when the damn fool continues to fight on, we bomb his bunker.
The first case I saw made for a “no-fly zone” was in an opinion piece by Paul Wolfowitz in the Wall Street Journal.
Whether you like what the “no-fly zone” has become or not, I think that there is something to be appreciated about the clear moral and ideological stance that it took…something that we are still waiting on our administration to do.
This is foreign policy based on a fantasy view of the world. No-fly zones enforcing peace and righteous, liberal protestors defying Kaddafi are things that only exist in the mind of the President. Reality is quite different. When both sides are murderous loons driving unmarked pickup trucks and shooting things almost at random, as amateur, low-budget armies are wont to do, the whole concept of “preventing civilian casualties” from 15,000′ falls apart.
The Law of Unintended Consequences has a corollary: The Rule of Unintended Lessons. That is, whatever you do, some observer will draw the completely wrong lesson from it about why you did it and what you are likely to do in future.
When April Glaspie says to Saddam that the US isn’t interested in getting involved in a dispute between Iraq and Kuwait, Saddam learns that the US won’t interfere with his military invasion and annexation of Kuwait. When the Clinton Administration gives a weak response to the WTC bombing, Bin Laden learns that he can conduct a mass casualty attack on the US with relative impunity.
So, what are the Iranians learning from our Libyan intervention?
The Green Revolution movement learns that when the situation becomes dire for those fighting an oppressive dictator in a Muslim country, the West inevitably stirs itself to military intervention to save the rebels.
The Iranian theocracy learns that they only have about three weeks to kill all the protesters before risking outside intervention, and that they have to ensure they do a complete job of it so that there’s nobody alive for the West to protect.
Both are wrong.
And who coined “plausible deniability “?