Everybody has questions and anxieties about our policy in Libya. My own position is this: I oppose the policy the Obama administration has described in various public statements. I support the policy the administration is actually executing.
The intellectual, cultural and scientific findings that land on the columnist’s desk nearly every day.
The policy the administration publicly describes is constricted and implausible. The multilateral force would try to prevent a humanitarian disaster from the air, but then it remains maddeningly ambiguous about what would happen next: what our goals are; what our attitude toward the Qaddafi regime is; what an exit strategy might be.
Fortunately, the policy the Obama administration is actually implementing is more flexible and thought-through.
It starts with the same humanitarian purpose. People sometimes think of President Obama as a cool, hyper-rational calculator, but in this case he was motivated by a noble, open-hearted sentiment: that the U.S. cannot sit by and watch tens of thousands of people get massacred when it has the means to prevent it.
President Obama took this decision, I’m told, fully aware that there was no political upside while there were enormous political risks. He took it fully aware that we don’t know much about Libya. He took it fully aware that if he took this action he would be partially on the hook for Libya’s future. But he took it as an American must — motivated by this country’s historical role as a champion of freedom and humanity — and with the awareness that we simply could not stand by with Russia and China in opposition.
In this decision, one could see the same sensitive, idealistic man who wrote “Dreams From My Father.”
As president, of course, one also has to think practically. The president and the secretary of state reached a hardheaded conclusion. If Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is actively slaughtering his own people, then this endeavor cannot end with a cease-fire that allows him to remain in power. Regime change is the goal of U.S. policy.
There are three plausible ways he might go, which inside the administration are sometimes known as the Three Ds. They are, in ascending order of likelihood: Defeat — the ragtag rebel army vanquishes his army on the battlefield; Departure — Qaddafi is persuaded to flee the country and move to a villa somewhere; and Defection — the people around Qaddafi decide there is no future hitching their wagon to his, and, as a result, the regime falls apart or is overthrown.
The result is a strategy you might call Squeeze and See. The multilateral forces ratchet up the pressure and watch to see what happens. The Western nations are reaching out to senior Libyan figures to encourage defection (the foreign minister has already split, and more seem to be coming). There is an effort to broadcast television signals into Libya to rival state TV. In the liberated areas, the multilateral alliance is sending aid to build civil society and organize the political opposition. The U.S. is releasing billions of confiscated Libyan dollars to the opposition to ensure its staying power.
Eric Schmitt had a fabulous piece in The Times this week detailing what the air assault actually involves. It’s not just hitting Libyan air defenses. It also involves psychological warfare inducing Libyan soldiers to defect. It involves messing with Libyan communications systems, cutting off supply lines and creating confusion throughout the command structure.
All of this is meant to send the signal that Qaddafi has no future. Will it be enough to cause enough defections? No one knows. But given all of the uncertainties, this seems like a prudent way to test the strength of the regime and expose its weaknesses.
It may turn out in the months ahead that we simply do not have the capacity, short of an actual invasion (which no one wants), to dislodge Qaddafi. But, at worst, the Libyan people will be no worse off than they were when government forces were bearing down on Benghazi and preparing for slaughter. At best, we may help liberate part of Libya or even, if the regime falls, the whole thing.
It is tiresome to harp on this sort of thing, but this is an intervention done in the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr. It is motivated by a noble sentiment, to combat evil, but it is being done without self-righteousness and with a prudent awareness of the limits and the ironies of history. And it is being done at a moment in history when change in the Arab world really is possible.
Libyan officials took Western reporters to the town of Gharyan this week to show them the grave of a baby supposedly killed in the multilateral bombing campaign. But the boy’s relatives pulled the reporters aside, David D. Kirkpatrick reported in The Times. “What NATO is doing is good,” one said. “He is not a man,” another whispered of Qaddafi. “He is Dracula. For 42 years it has been dark. Anyone who speaks, he kills. But everyone wants Qaddafi to go.”
By: David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 31, 2011
Two weeks ago, Newt Gingrich said this is what he would do about Libya, if he were president: “Exercise a no-fly zone this evening”.
Yesterday, here’s what Newt said about Libya, where the United States is exercising a no-fly zone: “I would not have intervened”.
After a full day of people making fun of him, the former House speaker — who masquerades as an intellectual policy wonk but who is actually just a master self-promoter — explained himself in a lengthy Facebook post, Sarah Palin-style, that generally made no sense, Sarah Palin-style.
His position seems to be that he would not have intervened, but once the president said, “Gadhafi must go,” the United States had to intervene, to save face, and that’s when Newt would’ve exercised the no-fly zone, if he were president and had made that statement, which he wouldn’t have done.
Also, Gingrich says, now that we’ve done this we should also do it in the Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Yemen and elsewhere, except we shouldn’t do it at all, anywhere.
We here at the War Room have just received, from the future, the next two weeks of Newt Gingrich’s public statements on Libya, and other assorted matters of national import.
“Meet the Press,” March 27
“What the president needs to do is have Congress vote on the use of ground troops in Libya, immediately.”
Neil Cavuto, March 29
“If I were president I’d unilaterally strike Iran right now instead of wasting our time and resources in Libya.”
Facebook, March 29
“My position on Libya has not changed: What the United States should’ve done is invade with a ground force, after receiving congressional authorization, but only if he hadn’t sought United Nations approval, which would’ve changed everything. Under the current circumstances, with the president already having totally blown it, our best option is a surprise airstrike on Iran.”
Human Events.com, March 31
“This is the single biggest foreign policy disaster I’ve seen since, literally, the Battle of Blandensburg, which I am writing a book about. We should pull out now and refocus on jobs, here at home.”
“Good Morning America,” April 1
“Look, if I was the commander in chief, I wouldn’t rest until we had Gadhafi’s head on a pike outside one of his gaudy palaces.”
Facebook, April 2
“Again, I’m distraught to see America so poorly led during this time of great international turmoil. My position is clear: The United States has a jobs crisis exacerbated by the failed policies of our current president, but after we committed ourselves to removing Gadhafi, we forced ourselves to take literally any action at our disposal to make that a reality, as long as we did it right, because if we aren’t doing it right, which we aren’t, but which I would, we should not do it.
“I also apologize to the hardworking staff at ‘Good Morning America’ for the incident with the chair, but I am growing tired of constantly answering such transparently biased questions about my very simple position on the conflict in Libya.”
“Face the Nation,” April 3
“I support gay marriage.”
“Fox and Friends,” April 6
“Gay people should be thrown in jail, forever, if they try to marry each other.”
Twitter, April 6
“deep respect 4 homosexual americans-vow to serve ALL americans if prez-inmate marriage will strengthen national respect 4 traditional family.”
By: Alex Pareene, Salon War Room, March 24, 2011
Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to “declare war.” The president, however, has ample authority to use military force without a “declaration of war” where the anticipated U.S. engagement in hostilities is limited in its expected nature, scope and duration. Presidential administrations of both political parties have recognized a long tradition that supports this use of force. And Congress has acknowledged its legitimacy as well.
The authority for the president to act without specific congressional authorization is set out in two opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel. The first, issued in 1994, defends the plan to send 20,000 troops into Haiti and the second, issued in 1995, provides the legal authority for the use of air power in Bosnia. (I should note that I was head of OLC at the time these opinions were issued).
As these opinions note, the structure of the War Powers Resolution enacted by Congress necessarily presupposes the existence of unilateral presidential authority to deploy armed forces “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.” The resolution requires that, in the absence of a declaration of war, the president must report to Congress within 48 hours of introducing armed forces into such circumstances and must terminate the use of U.S. armed forces within 60 days unless Congress permits otherwise. This structure makes sense only if the president may introduce troops into hostilities or potential hostilities without prior authorization by the Congress: the resolution regulates such action by the president and seeks to set limits to it.
President Obama has fully complied with the reporting requirements set out by Congress in the War Powers Resolution. To be sure, the resolution declares that it should not be construed to grant any new authority to the president. But it obviously assumes that the president already had such authority, and sets out reporting (and subsequent withdrawal) requirements when he exercises that power.
It has been 15 years since these OLC opinions were issued and widely discussed. In that time, Congress has continued to provide for military forces to be deployed throughout the world without placing any restrictions that would preclude their use in circumstances such as those presented by Haiti, Bosnia and Libya. Under well-established precedents endorsed by both the executive and congressional branches of the national government, there is no doubt of the legitimacy of the president’s use of force in Libya.
By: Walter Dellinger, Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard University; Former Assistant Attorney General and Head, Office of Legal Council. Article published in The Arena, Politico, March 22, 2011
There’s been a lot of criticism of President Obama for being too slow to support the Mideast’s popular uprisings, especially in Libya.
“Feeble,” “incoherent” and “not showing leadership” are some of the complaints I get from readers from both sides of the political spectrum. At moments, I’ve felt the same: The White House’s Mideast team is weak, his “peace process” diplomacy has failed, his support of pro-democracy rebels is conflicted.
Yet, after reflecting on a recent visit to Egypt and conversations with experts in the region, I’ve concluded that no U.S. administration could have acted more decisively to aid Arab rebels. Any president would have been constricted by the same factors Obama faced.
Let’s start with Libya, where Obama hesitated for weeks to intervene, but has now agreed to a U.N.-backed no-fly zone that aims to stop Col. Moammar Gadhafi from slaughtering his own people.
In deciding how to act, Obama was haunted by the legacy of the Iraq war. That ill-conceived conflict and failed occupation turned the entire Middle East, including democrats, against U.S. interventions. Egyptian rebel leaders made that point to me over and over. Imposing democracy from above, a la Iraq, is out.
So unilateral U.S. intervention in Libya was out of the question. Moreover, the Pentagon strongly opposed intervention in another Muslim country. U.S. generals feared it would take ground forces to get rid of Gadhafi.
Only after the Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone March 12 (and called for United Nations support) could the White House press for a vote by the U.N. Security Council. The vote meant – in theory, at least – that Arab countries could provide cover for action by France and Britain, with the United States in a supporting role. Even so, had Gadhafi not been on the verge of committing large-scale atrocities against civilians in full view of the world, Obama might not have concurred.
However, the Libya story is but a tragic sideshow. The fate of the region will turn on the results of democratic experiments in Egypt and events in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
The Obama-ites were slow to support Egyptian rebels, but that may have been a godsend. Much of Egypt’s newfound pride lies with the fact that its rebels made their revolution on their own.
Now is the moment when U.S. officials should back democratic Egyptians (and Tunisians) in their push for fair elections and an open constitutional process. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who just visited both countries, seems to get it. But in their eagerness to avoid interference in Egypt’s politics, U.S. officials may be taking an approach that’s too hands-off.
The president’s ambivalence has also stemmed, however, from the fact that we have sharply conflicting interests in the region.
In theory, we back political reform in the Middle East, in the hope that Arab states can build democratic institutions in the long run. If they succeed, terrorists may find less fertile ground in the region.
Yet in the short run, the United States still faces crucial security threats from Iran and from Islamist terrorists. Our autocratic Arab allies helped us fight these threats. Their demise is likely to create instability in coming months or years that will enable those threats to increase.
This conflict underlay the slow support for change in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence service was aggressive in pursuit of Islamist terrorists, and he was a key Sunni ally in containing Shiite Tehran. In the new Egypt (and Tunisia, and Libya, if Gadhafi falls), intelligence services will be curbed. This is a good thing, as the secret police repressed their own people. But it will also make it easier for terrorist networks to regroup in the region.
At least in Egypt, the White House can still rely on a close relationship with the army, which will remain a power center for the foreseeable future. In the Arabian Peninsula and the gulf, however, the democracy-vs.-security conflict makes it almost impossible to shape a coherent policy.
Gulf rulers like Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah want Obama to forget about democracy and focus on security. Such a choice seemed possible in the last decade: George W. Bush promoted Mideast democracy in his first term; then, when that backfired, he emphasized Mideast security in his second term. But that choice is not possible now.
The administration has tried, unsuccessfully, to encourage the president of Yemen to usher in peaceful democratic change. Neither ruler nor rebels seem able to make the necessary compromises, which means U.S. officials probably can’t save Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yet if he falls, this country, just below Saudi Arabia, may relapse into tribal warfare. This would make it easier for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to flourish.
In Bahrain, the revolt of a largely Shiite population against its Sunni rulers presents the greatest danger to U.S. interests. This island kingdom is connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, whose eastern oil region is dominated by its Shiite minority. The Saudis fear that if Bahrain’s rulers fall, Iran will have the perfect base from which to push Saudi Shiites to rebel.
Last week, over Obama’s objections, the Saudi monarch sent troops across the causeway to help crush Bahrain’s rebels. He won’t listen when U.S. officials urge him (and Bahrain’s ruler) to give more representation to their Shiites. Obama’s team says this will head off trouble; Abdullah believes it will create more.
The Saudis think Obama is too strong on democracy and weak on security. Obama’s critics slam him for being too weak on democracy – or on security. Few realize he is caught in a historical bind that requires him to be strong on both, even though the two contradict each other – at least in the short term. Bush couldn’t resolve that contradiction; Obama has no choice but to try.
By: Trudy Rubin, Columnist, The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 22, 2011
Over the past few days, President Obama has surprised us. For weeks, he seemed committed to avoiding military action against Libya—even though Libyans were imploring America and the West to come to their aid. But at the very last minute, when Muammar Qaddafi seemed to be only days and perhaps hours away from retaking the remainder of his country by force, Obama decided to act. It was a decision we wish he would have arrived at weeks ago. But it was the right decision. And Obama deserves credit for having made it.
To understand why Obama’s decision was not only correct but really the only decent one that was available to him, it is necessary to contemplate what would be taking place in Libya right now if we had not intervened. Late last week, Qaddafi announced that his forces, having reestablished control over most of the country, were closing in on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and issued his now infamous warning to those who refused to give up. “We are coming tonight,” he said. “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.” Had we not intervened to cripple his forces, it seems likely that, by now, Qaddafi would be in Benghazi and, undoubtedly, carrying out bloody reprisals against his opponents. The rebellion, moreover, would effectively be over, and any hopes of freedom that the Libyan people had been entertaining would be dead, at least in the near term.
Skeptics of the intervention (including TNR contributing editor Michael Walzer, whose thoughtful analysis can be found here) have argued that one of the mission’s flaws is that its goals are woefully unclear. Are we trying to topple Qaddafi? Are we merely trying to create a safe-haven for rebels in the east? These are fair questions, but it seems to us that the most immediate goals of the mission were quite clear: first, to prevent a slaughter in Benghazi, a slaughter that Qaddafi himself had promised was only hours away; and second, to tip the balance of power in the rebellion away from Qaddafi, so that his forces were unable to retake any more of the country, thus extinguishing the resistance for good. On these terms, the intervention has already been a success.
As for what comes next: It is difficult to say whether Western airpower can tip the balance of power toward the rebels so dramatically that they will be able to topple Qaddafi. We certainly hope so. But even if it does not, an intervention that at least allows the rebels to maintain a free zone in Libya will certainly be a better outcome than the alternative—a Libya reunited under Qaddafi’s iron control.
In making this argument we are mindful of the lessons of Iraq. We supported that war, which has exacted an enormous human cost on Iraqis and Americans alike, and we long ago came to the conclusion that our support was a grave mistake. But we are also mindful of recent instances where Western power has been necessary to head off mass killing and to help oppressed people achieve their liberation. In some of these instances—Bosnia, Kosovo—we acted, and the outcomes have been generally positive. In other instances—Rwanda, Darfur—we did not act, and the results were hundreds of thousands of dead. The point is that Iraq alone cannot be used as a basis for determining the morality or predicting the efficacy of any given intervention.
Many skeptics have also pointed to the events unfolding in Bahrain, where a Sunni minority government allied with the United States has (with the help of another U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia) violently suppressed an uprising by the Shia majority. Isn’t Obama a hypocrite, many liberals have asked, for intervening to stop an autocrat in Libya but not in Bahrain? It is a legitimate point. Bahrain is said to be a difficult case for American policymakers because a revolution by the Shia majority would be a major victory for Iran. And it is true that anything which advances the interests of a brutal Iranian government in the Middle East must be seen as a setback to the cause of liberal democracy.
At the same time, the events of the last few months show that aligning oneself with autocrats is never a wise course. We spent decades paralyzed with fear about what the fall of Mubarak would mean for our strategic interests. And yet, looking back, would we not have been better off cutting Mubarak loose a generation ago, and siding forthrightly with the Egyptian people? By helping to postpone the arrival of democracy, we did not fortify our long-term strategic position one bit.
We must now think about Bahrain (and Saudi Arabia and our other repressive clients in the region) in the same terms. If our backing allows the Al Khalifa family to remain in power for a few more years, and in the process causes the Bahraini people to conclude that the United States is fundamentally hypocritical, we will in fact be helping Iran. The message of the Obama administration to the Al Khalifas and to Saudi Arabia’s rulers must now be unequivocal: You cannot rule forever, and you must begin the process of opening up your societies and paving the way for liberal democracy.
Should we have intervened diplomatically to stop the repression in Bahrain? Absolutely. But for those offering our failure in Bahrain as a reason not to intervene in Libya, here is a simple question: Would our failure in Bahrain have been in any way ameliorated by allowing Qaddafi to move into Benghazi late last week? We think the answer is a clear no.
Of course, no one knows what will happen from here forward. But this much we do know: Four days ago, a cruel dictator appeared to be on the verge of initiating a bloodbath in one of the last free zones of his country. Today, the free zone he was threatening to attack remains free. And his ability to wage war against a justified rebellion seems to have been at least somewhat compromised. Without Western intervention—that is, without Obama’s decision to finally do the right thing—there is little doubt that the situation would have been worse.
By: The Editors, The New Republic, March 20, 2011.