Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gross Missteps in Libya

In a rare return to politics, I wanted to discuss for a moment our President and his bringing us into Libya.

First of all, I should disclaim that I voted for President Obama, and was a willing and happy supporter of his during the campaign.  I don't consider myself a Democrat, but I was an enthusiastic supporter of Obama during 2008, and have been largely pleased with several of his domestic initiatives since election.

That said, Libya is a big mistake, and I fear it underscores Obama's relative inexperience in foreign policy.  Further, I feel it probably is also mirrored in his Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton.  Despite the initial misgivings expressed by Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, both Clinton and Obama proceeded wholeheartedly putting together the NATO coalition and UN resolution for action in Libya.

So, what happened?  How did we get to this place?  Well, first Tunisia fell, and the whole world took notice.  The fall of an Arab dictator.  That seemed well within our U.S. interests, but we had no involvement in it.  Hooray.

Then Egypt fell.  OK, things got a little sticky for a while, when we couldn't decide if the fall of Mubarak's dictatorial regime, which we supported hugely for 40 years, was a good thing or a bad thing.  Publicly, we were fickle, waiting to see which way the wind blew.  Ultimately, Mubarak's regime fell, and we came in hollering, "Let the people be free!"  And meanwhile, we maintained some well placed skepticism about what would be the new regime, would they be friendly to U.S. interests, and would we still support the Egyptian military?  And most importantly, how would all this play out with our major ally, Israel?  Big questions which still need to be answered.

And then, Bahrain, where we silently did nothing, because they are major allies.  And Syria, where we've done nothing, because we're not sure what to do.  And Yemen, where we do nothing, because they are secret allies, but a country near anarchy like Somolia.  Whoa, this is getting complicated.

All the while, we're putting out a message of "Let the People be Free!" and "This is the Arab Awakening!", and meanwhile hoping by doing so, if these regimes fall, the rebels will form a unified and coherent government, remember our U.S. support, and join us as allies.  Seems pretty naive, really.

So then we get to Libya.  This is arguably the country with the LEAST amount of U.S. interests.  Their contribution to the world oil market is around 2%, easily made up by our strongest Arab ally, Saudi Arabia.  At the time of the Libyan uprising, Gaddhafi was on the "getting better" list of Arab dictators.  He had renounced terrorism, had made apologies for Lockerbie, had made overtly friendly gestures to the United States, and was working hard in rebuilding relationships with European countries.  He was still a brutal dictator, but he was not a threat to the United States.

Swept up in the fervor of the "Arab Awakening", I believe our administration, regardless, decided to side with the rebels in what is now recognized as a full-out civil war.  We thought if we provide air support cover to the rebels, Gaddhafi would quickly step down, and we could chalk up another victory in reshaping the Arab regimes.  "See, you Arab people, the U.S. is your friend!  Please don't attack us anymore."

Not so simple, though.

First of all, the Libyan rebels are a rag-tag bunch of a very few formerly-loyal military leaders, untrained civilians, and children.  They have no serious weapons, no command structure, no  organization.  And anytime NATO stops providing military support, they quickly lose ground to Gaddhafi's forces.

Second, though crimes against humanity are deplorable worldwide, this is a Libyan civil war.  Why are we involved? Where are our interests?  In his recent address, the President stated that we will not sit idly by and watch genocide occur; that we will act first.  So, why then no action in Sudan?  What about Ivory Coast?  Somolia?  Chechnya?  I mean, really?  Why?  We cannot be the world's policeman, and this is just the kind of unprepared action that got us into trouble in Mogadishu.

Third, whether Republican or Democrat (and they both do it), I am sick and tired of presidents going to war without Congressional approval.  That is what's required of the Constitution.   Sure, a limited action with stated objectives is the prerogative of the President, but Libya does not appear to be this.  Now we hear the President talking of arming rebels.  Excuse me, but what the heck?  Again, why?

So, what is the United States' interest?  If not oil, if not terror, what is it?  If it is taking sides in Libya, I say, "Not good enough, not important enough."  We are now involved in three wars as a bankrupt country.  Time to rein it in a little bit, I'd say.  So what if there is a U.N. mandate.  That does not mean we are compelled to act militarily.  There were U.N. mandates for Sudan too.

Unfortunately, I fear it is probably too late.  The ball is in motion and rolling fast down this hill.  If Gaddhafi stays, he is forever off the ally list.  If he falls, who in the heck is going to replace him, and will they be friendly to our interests?  And the worst part of it now, I fear, is that we have further alienated other Islamic countries.  They will see this as the third time the U.S. has attacked an Islamic nation.  Any initial support we had from the Arab League for Libya (which was tepid at best) has now vanished and we're sitting out on a limb without our knickers.  We must be very careful how we proceed.

And all for what reason?  I still don't have an answer to that.

Afghanistan and Iraq, those were messes arguably created by the Bush regime, but Libya, Mr. President, is your mess alone.

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