Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) made a rare Senate appearance this morning, sitting in a wheelchair just off the floor so that members would have to see him as they entered the chamber. Why? Because they were poised to vote on ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and Dole hoped to send a message.
It didn’t work. The Senate killed the treaty this afternoon, with a final vote of 61 to 38, which seems like a lopsided majority, but which fell short of the two-thirds necessary for ratification. Eight Republicans broke ranks and joined Democrats in support of the treaty, but the clear majority of the Senate GOP voted to block it.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, for those who’ve forgotten, is a human rights treaty negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration, which has been ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
But most Senate Republicans saw it as a threat to American “sovereignty,” even though the treaty wouldn’t have required the United States to change its laws. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty with bipartisan support in July, Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained the proposal simply “raises the [international] standard to our level without requiring us to go further.”
In other words, we wouldn’t actually have to do anything except say we like the treaty — and then wait for other signatories around the world to catch up to the United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act.
The treaty was endorsed by Dole, John McCain, and Dick Lugar, among other prominent Republican figures, but it didn’t matter. The GOP’s right-wing base, led in part by Rick Santorum, raised hysterical fears about the treaty, and most Senate Republicans took their cues from the party’s activists, not the party’s elder statesmen.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 4, 2012
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
As a fleet of French airplanes lacerated a column of Libyan army vehicles near Benghazi on Saturday, President Obama stuck to his prearranged schedule in Brazil, receiving whispered updates from his aides. Within three hours, more than 100 cruise missiles had hit two dozen targets in Libya. That’s just “the first phase,” William Gortney, the director of the Joint Staff, told reporters.
What he didn’t say: It’s the first phase of what will become Barack Obama’s first new war. By directing the military to hit targets inside Libya, the Obama administration is trying to strike an incredibly delicate balance between a strong disinclination to invade a Muslim country and their determined desire to avoid looking like they’re walking away from the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents.
When Muammar el-Qaddafi first struck back against protesters, Obama hoped that tough sanctions and material support to the opposition would be enough to force the dictator from power. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned him that a “no fly zone” would be ineffective and essentially commit the country to war. By Monday night, it was clear to Obama that this policy wasn’t working. Countries like Iran were getting the wrong message. The Libyan military was selectively testing the patience of the world by striking opposition strongholds. The opposition was pinned down in the port city of Benghazi, swelled by tens of thousands of refugees. Qaddafi kept using a phrase that stuck in Obama’s head: “no mercy.” And France, smarting from seeming to abandon Egyptians during their time of trouble, along with the U.K., were champing at the bit to use force. The Arab League had kicked Libya out and was closer to the French position. It risked its own legitimacy, already questioned by many in the region, if it didn’t side with the rebels.
On Tuesday, during a meeting of his national security team, Obama said he wanted a new policy. “Clearly, what we’re doing is not enough,” he said, according to contemporaneous notes kept by a participant. A “humanitarian disaster” was imminent unless something was done. He wanted more options.
Gates wanted to game out scenarios, knowing that any effective no-fly zone would necessitate a cascade of other military actions that would look a heck of a lot like an invasion, no matter how carefully it was done.
Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser and one of the gatekeepers of Obama’s foreign policy, was worried about the strategic implications of both allowing Qaddafi to succeed in retaking control of Benghazi as well as what would happen down the road in other countries if a successful military response ousted him from power with a minimum of bloodshed. Even the lightest military footprint would result in civilian casualties, he warned. Almost as inevitable would be the death of a coalition soldier or the downing of an airplane.
Hillary Rodham Clinton said instability in Libya threatened to clip the democratic aspirations of its two neighbors, Egypt and Tunisia. She was also worried about the message to Iran if the U.S. and its allies did nothing in Libya: America was so afraid of committing its military to protect Muslims and Arabs that it would allow virtually anything to happen.
The meeting broke up.
Donilon would take charge of a rapid-fire series of conference calls and meetings and would, by that night, bring to the president three new policy proposals, each of which would call for a mix of diplomatic, military and intelligence actions against Libya. Obama had dinner with his combat commanders, and solicited their input about what challenges the military would face. At 9 p.m. that night, he reconvened only his principals. (Clinton was represented by her deputy, James Steinberg.) Donilon laid out his proposals. After about an hour, the Situation Room had come to a rough consensus: a no fly zone wouldn’t work, but more words would not work either. Obama instructed his U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, to inform the Security Council that France’s resolution, which called for a no fly zone and little else, was insufficient. He asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, to turn into him by the next evening a Concept of Operation Plan, or CONPLAN, for a NATO-executed military campaign in Libya that would be assisted by Arab countries.
In closed session at the U.N., Rice laid out the U.S. position. The situation was urgent and dire. But the world had to know precisely what it would mean to keep Libyan troops from murdering their own citizens. Any resolution would have to include language authorizing strikes against Libyan military infrastructure on the ground to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. “We are not going to hide pooch,” Rice said in the meeting, according to a U.S. official. “We must be completely clear about what we are going to do and why.” And Arab countries must participate, she insisted, in some visible way, in the campaign. She proposed a number of amendments that added significant heft to the resolution.
For the next 24 hours, Clinton and Rice tag-teamed Arab countries and members of the Security Council. They argued that if nothing was done, despots and beleaguered leaders everywhere would vow never to repeat the “mistake” of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who yielded power without foreign military intervention. Iran, in particular, would find itself with an incentive to continue to spread its proxy forces to other countries and further repress its own citizens. And Rice has made the reinvigoration of the United Nations one of her prime goals as ambassador. The legitimacy of that body was at stake too, she argued.
On Wednesday, at about 6:30 p.m., Mullen and Donilon presented Obama with their CONPLAN for Libya. Its contents are mostly classified; an official said the air strikes on Saturday were one part of a larger campaign that includes a variety of overt and covert actions. Published reports suggest that U.K. special operations forces were secreted in the country, scouting out the battlefield in preparation for air strikes. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command moved several tactical air teams to a small base on Crete. In order to try and disguise their movements, the U.S. planes changed their call signs once they entered airspace over the Mediterranean, but commercial software that tracks their transponders revealed the shift, and word leaked out on Twitter. These teams would coordinate the air assault but are capable of parachuting into a region and directing them from the ground.
On Friday, the U.S. moved a Rivet Joint signals intelligence plane to Souda Air Base on a Greek Island, bearing the provocative call sign of “SNOOP 55.” Subs capable of launching Tomahawk missiles idled near Italy. The USS Florida, armed with more than 100 Tomahawks, moved into firing range. Twenty four hours after the U.S. introduced its amendments, it got its resolution, 10-0. Obama spoke with his counterparts in France and the UK and agreed that they’d give Qadaffi 24 hours to turn heel and retreat. If he didn’t, France would begin the bombardment.
It was important to the U.S. that Libyans and the world understand that this coalition of the willing was more than a U.S. rhetorical construct. An hour before bombing began Saturday, Clinton spoke to the press in Paris. Asked why military action was in America’s interest, she gave three reasons and implied a fourth. A destabilizing force would jeopardize progress in Tunisia and Egypt; a humanitarian disaster was imminent unless prevented; Qaddafi could not flout international law without consequences. The fourth: there’s a line now, and one that others countries had better not cross.
The development of a new doctrine in the Middle East is taking form, and it could become a paradigm for how the international community deals with unrest across the region from now on. The new elements include the direct participation of the Arab world, the visible participation of U.S. allies, as well as a very specific set of military targets designed to forestall needless human suffering. Though the Libyan situation is quite unique – its military is nowhere near as strong as Iran’s is, for one thing – Obama hopes that a short, surgical, non-US-led campaign with no ground troops will satisfy Americans skeptical about military intervention and will not arouse the suspicions of Arabs and Muslims that the U.S. is attempting to influence indigenously growing democracies.
By: Marc Ambinder, Contributing Editor, The Atlantic, March 20, 2011