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Posted at 12:01 PM ET, 02/27/2011

Obama on Libya: Very little and very late

By Jennifer Rubin

After days of near-silence and inactivity the Obama administration took its first tentative steps against the murderous regime of Moammar Gaddafi. The Post reported:

Moments after a charter aircraft departed Libya with all remaining U.S. diplomats there Friday, the Obama administration shuttered the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and moved to freeze assets in this country belonging to leader Moammar Gaddafi, his family and his government.

In an executive order issued Friday night, President Obama accused Gaddafi and his government of taking "extreme measures against the people of Libya, including by using weapons of war, mercenaries and wanton violence against unarmed civilians." The order blocking the transfer or withdrawal of any funds applies to all Libyan government entities, Gaddafi and all of his estimated eight children, specifically naming three sons and a daughter.

White House officials said Obama also canceled all military contacts with Libya and ordered a reallocation of U.S. intelligence assets to focus on civilian deaths there and to track Libyan troop deployments and tank movements.

Obama did manage to call for Gaddafi to leave Libya. But oddly, he did so in a phone call -- with Angela Merkel "after days of deadly violence and criticism that Washington was slow to respond":

Obama, in a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Gaddafi had lost his legitimacy and needed to go.

"The president stated that when a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now," the White House said in a statement describing the call.

"The president and the chancellor shared deep concerns about the Libyan government's continued violation of human rights and brutalization of its people."

I would be hard-pressed to find a more effective means of diminishing the impact of that message than haivng the novice press secretary relate what Obama said to another world leader. The American president (like our influence in the world) is shrinking before our eyes.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen responded with a statement:

"The executive order freezing the assets of Libyan regime officials and blocking defense-related exports to Libya is a positive first step, but stronger penalties must be imposed in order to hold the regime accountable for its heinous crimes, and to prevent further violence against the Libyan people.

Additional U.S. and international measures should include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone, a comprehensive arms embargo, a travel ban on regime officials, immediate suspension of all contracts and assistance which benefit the regime, and the imposition of restrictions on foreign investment in Libya, including in Libya's oil sector.

Furthermore, the resolution on Libya which the U.N. Human Rights Council passed yesterday was an overdue, reactive, and insufficient measure by a deeply flawed body whose membership remains dominated by human rights violators, including Libya itself. How many innocent people had to be killed or imprisoned by the Gaddafi regime before the Human Rights Council would finally act?

I urge the U.S. to call for a vote in the U.N. General Assembly to immediately suspend Libya's membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council. I also call on the Administration to end U.S. participation in and funding for the Council until real membership standards are adopted to prevent human rights violators like Libya from becoming members in the first place."

But the slowness of the Obama response and the mildness of its initial steps are revealing, as Christopher Hitchens put it:

This is not merely a matter of the synchronizing of announcements. The Obama administration also behaves as if the weight of the United States in world affairs is approximately the same as that of Switzerland. We await developments. We urge caution, even restraint. We hope for the formation of an international consensus. And, just as there is something despicable about the way in which Swiss bankers change horses, so there is something contemptible about the way in which Washington has been affecting -- and perhaps helping to bring about -- American impotence. Except that, whereas at least the Swiss have the excuse of cynicism, American policy manages to be both cynical and naive.

On the other side are apologists such as the Center for American Progress's Brian Katulis (who shamelessly assured the crowd in Herzliya, Israel, this month that American influence in the Middle East was on the rise). He sniffs at the administration's critics: "He is after all the president of the United States, not the president of Amnesty International." Unfortunately, he's not acting like either, and certainly not leading the West.

The Obama team and its spinners have excused the timidity on grounds that it had to rescue Americans in Libya. Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Institute thinks that calculus sends exactly the wrong message. He e-mails me: "The sizable number of Brits, French, Italians and Germans in Libya (and their substantial economic interests) did not render their leaders mute as violence broke out. It was only the United States that chose to dither. Thus we are left looking silly and weak. Not a good message to others that may wish to cause harm to Americans in the future."

Likewise, a Middle East hand who's been highly critical of the administration's handling of recent Middle East events tells me, "The message should not be that we are shivering in fear but that if you touch an American you are a dead man. Once upon a time our message to Tripoli was Teddy Roosevelt's: "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead." That is the language someone like Gaddafi understands."

But, alas, Obama does not. Nor does he seem to comprehend that when America waivers or recedes from its historic role as leader of the Free World, both the world and the U.S. suffer.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 27, 2011; 12:01 PM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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Not that Obama would have the testosterone to do it, but I wonder if it'd be worth it if we simply killed Qaddafi (if logistically possible). He has completely lost any legitimacy, is virulently anti-American and is probably on his way out anyway. We can rightfully claim that it's to protect innocent civilians. It would probably generate a lot of good will for America in Libya and maybe beyond. We seem to be lacking that these days.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 27, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Clearly this writer has no friends or family working or living in Libya. What part of the strategy of Western countries getting potential hostages out of harm's way before ratching up the pressure is beyond the comprehension of this woman? Can you imagine what sort of right-wing freak fest would take place if Americans are taken hostage in one of these countries? I realize that government workers are viewed as less than human by the right these days, but surely, the Reagon victory in '80 notwithstanding, you are not so callous to root for a hostage situation so that you can take political advantage of it.

Posted by: eerock | February 27, 2011 1:26 PM | Report abuse

And let's not forget this brilliant post a few hours before Mubarak stepped down.

You think some people would learn to be more cautious, but there must be some who like the feel of egg on their face.

Posted by: eerock | February 27, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I am ordinarily the last person to defend our least competent President, but I wonder if, in this case, he doesn't deserve at least a brief sympathetic tune from a small violin.

Certainly the clearest message to come from this whole mess has been the utter ineptitude of our intelligence apparatus and diplomatic core. Both suffered terribly under Clinton, and badly under Bush, and, given the sublime talents of Hilary Clinton and Norman Panetta, have evolved into little more than lucrative welfare programs for the apparatchiks of the Left.

Given that our assembled intelligence force has, apparently, not the slightest clue what is actually happening on the ground, or why, or who is making it happen, Mr. Obama is a blind pilot at the helm of the ship of state. Is it any wonder he is so uncompromisingly timid, choosing to steer her in very tight circles in very safe waters?

Posted by: meta-materialist | February 27, 2011 1:42 PM | Report abuse


They just released a video of al-Gaddafi boarding a plane to leave the country on YouTube:

There was also one of the protesters fire on his plane as it took off. No one is sure where he was headed.

Posted by: webcontent2011 | February 27, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Obama has spent the last two years shrinking in stature. It has turned out that unless whatever problem has manifested itself, if it cannot be talked to death, Obama is lost.

In a world needing leadership, Obama is the Cheshire cat without the grin. With any luck, he will completely disappear in 2012. Outside of the big airplane, the band, the big house, and the parties, he really doesn't like the job anyway. He is the dog who finally caught the car: now what?

Posted by: RickCaird | February 27, 2011 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I've noticed this lockstep "Obama Failed to Lead" coming from the right. I suppose being a leader means having a self-congratulating triumphal fly-in to an aircraft carrier. Did someone need to pee all over the struggle of these peoples with the iconic imagery of our commander in chief standing on the enemy's face in a flight suit with a "Mission Accomplished" banner billowing patriotically behind him?

No. "It's the people, stupid." It's about the Arab people feeling empowered. It is not about some ego-stroking triumphal defeating of them. Any direct action on our part against Kadhafi will instantly give him the credibility he needs to survive. Furthermore, these revolutions are far from over.

Be sure to get down on your knees and thank a protester today. These are the people who bring freedom.

Posted by: macchendra | February 27, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

No macchendra. Failure to lead is leaving the stimulus to Pelosi, the health care bill to Reid, submitting a budget with no cuts even though both the stimulus and TARP have expired, saying nothing about Iran and waiting on Egypt and Libya until other world leaders have spoken.

If your comment is the right is pointing out the lack of leadership and you have not noticed that, then you are saying much more about your obliviousness than anything else.

Posted by: RickCaird | February 27, 2011 2:53 PM | Report abuse

At the end of the day, thoughtful commentators said Obama handled Egypt correctly. Internet gasbags didn't wait for the end of day, they bloviated prematurely. This blog is designed to cater to fans of the latter; ie, people whose self-esteem is tied to winning domestic political quarrels instead of taking heart in long oppressed people gaining dignity.

Posted by: eerock | February 27, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

There were hundreds of Americans in Libya (diplomatic personnel, oil contract workers, etc.) who had to be evacuated before the administration could come down hard on Gaddafi. All of them were potential hostages. I think most reasonable people understand this.

Posted by: dnva | February 27, 2011 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Someone said that the best-case model for the next two years of Obama foreign policy is the Carter administration. I'm at the point where I'm relieved when Obama does nothing instead of something contrary to American interests. Gates is the only member of Obama's national security team with any judgment, and he's leaving.

Posted by: eoniii | February 27, 2011 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Didn't the French speak out? Didn't they have citizens in Libya?

Posted by: gopthestupidparty | February 27, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Is Christopher Hitchens a neocon? I forget.

Posted by: aardunza | February 27, 2011 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Is Christopher Hitchens a neocon? I forget.

Posted by: aardunza | February 27, 2011 4:20 PM
Hitch got Iraq wrong, big time. Intervene in Libya looks like a reunion of all those who thought Iraq would be a cakewalk. Thankfully the White House and Pentagon is no longer staffed by adolescents.

Posted by: eerock | February 27, 2011 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: eerock | February 27, 2011 5:06 PM

Thankfully the White House and Pentagon is no longer staffed by adolescents.

Yes, the adolescents crawled back into their holes at the AEI.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 27, 2011 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute, the adolescents are still on the loose in the UK!

//SAS has staged a dramatic evacuation of 150 civilian workers from the Libyan desert.
The Special Forces soldiers landed in two C130 Hercules military transport aircraft on a landing strip near remote oilfields south of the eastern port of Benghazi.
The SAS men – known as ‘blades’ because of their role at the sharp end of the mission – had flown from Malta’s Valletta airport, where, in meticulous detail, they planned the rescue of the stranded workers, many of them British.

Although the SAS troops were heavily armed with assault rifles, machine guns and shotguns, it is understood they met no resistance.

A senior source confirmed that an advance party of SAS men had been in Libya for several days before rounding up the oil workers from several locations in a desert four-and-a-half times the size of Britain.
The SAS party had sneaked into Libya in plain clothes on commercial flights on Tuesday.
They then reported to the British Embassy and picked up weapons being kept there after they had been flown in earlier in a ‘red box’, or diplomatic bag. //

Why could they not just hire a ferry like civilized folks do? They should have done what we did and just let the Foreign Office (equivalent to our State Department) make the arrangements… Heck,, they even have that "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey" song!

FWIW, there’s more good reporting and some nice pix and graphics at the link.

Posted by: SCMike1 | February 27, 2011 7:38 PM | Report abuse

China answered the 3AM call by sending a missile frigate to Libya. Barack ? called a meeting with France ! and waited patiently for Libyan permission to allow an evacuee ferry to depart.

No wonder the Post Editors wrote “Obama – lagging on Libya” and Hitchens wrote: Is Barack Obama Secretly Swiss?"

Elliott Abrams reports that China is teaching the US what it means to be a superpower.

Our President showed the world that at 3AM.. he couldn’t find his pants. No American in an autocratic nation will feel safer today. Barack does not have your back.

Posted by: pvilso24 | February 27, 2011 8:23 PM | Report abuse

American support in that area is the kss of deathand in view of our standing in Libya and other parts of that world Obama may be wise to stand back. Gahafi is circling the bowl and doesn’t have supporters, he has employees. He may blame LSD or anyone that pops up in his feverish mind for Libya's problems, but a lot of the fireworks are being supplied by private military contractors. Private Military Contractors or mercenaries as they were previously known have been showing up a lot in the news lately! They deserve full court press of attention particularly from the UN. From Libya to Pakistan and Iraq their exploits have been major news. There is however nothing new about mercenaries and to see an exclusive 2000 year old picture of them on the job at Golgotha Hill go to Citizen Editorial cartoons 'n text at

Posted by: saintpeterii | February 27, 2011 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Only idiots think the U. S. has any options at all with Lybia.

The Country is broke, just ask Boehner. We can't afford anything so we definitely can't afford a policy toward Libya and Kaddafi that costs money, and every Republican option will cost incredible amounts of money. Republicans don't bother to look at probable costs, they just b..tch because Obama hasn't started another unnecessary war.

meanwhile the Army is both Broke and broken. The exceptional rates of PTSD, the related rates of suicide, joblessness, homelessness, depression in recent veterans, are a result of Bush demanding that the Army work miracles to bring satisfactory ends to war we never should have started, and that will never have anything that could be described as a satisfactory outcome. In essence we don't have a spare troop of boy scouts to send to Libya, let alone two carriers to be on station and two more to be available to relieve them in order to institute a no fly zone. No-body else on earth even has that kind of carrier so we can't expect them to do it either.

And even had we the Army, Navy, and Air Force assets to actually take action, there is no one and no organization IN Libya for us to work with. So were we to try any military solution, we would be an invader to be repulsed, and we have no more reason to expect that we would be welcomed as liberators in Tripoli than we have now to justify Rumsfield's assertion that we would be received as liberators in Baghdad way back when George was trying to prove that his daddy was wrong not to take out Saddam during the Hundred Hour war.

I see lots of conservatives complaining about what Obama is doing. Not one actually suggests a line of action, notes what it would require in men and equipment, and quotes a cost, and none would dare suggesting that the U. S. raise taxes to pay for it.

So how about it all you military geniuses, what do we do, how do we do it, and how do we pay for it?

I won't hold my breath waiting for an answer.

Posted by: ceflynline | February 27, 2011 8:31 PM | Report abuse

"China answered the 3AM call by sending a missile frigate to Libya. Posted by: pvilso24"

And your source for this is?

But assume that is true. two weeks from now, with no port for servicing that frigate, and NO actual experience in blue water operations, since China's fleet is really coastal protection stuff, this missile frigate finally arrives in the Gulf of Sidra. Just what do you expect it to do except get in the way of Mediterranean shipping?

Nice bit of fantasy, though. What I expect from a Conservative, since facts aren't really among their tools for debate.

Posted by: ceflynline | February 27, 2011 8:42 PM | Report abuse

When the only source the wingnuts have is Elliot Abrams, you know they have squat.

Posted by: eerock | February 27, 2011 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link and informative comment, SCMike1. And a spot of praise with the tea and digestive biscuits for the Britishers is warranted:

"The SAS party had sneaked into Libya in plain clothes on commercial flights on Tuesday."

At least their writers know to avoid that atrocious Americanism "snuck." Here, here!

(Trying to get back in Lord Winston's good graces after the Administration's and my gratuitous insults. And now for the DVD Extras of "Are You Being Served?" I'm free!)

Plus I do a spot-on karaoke cover of that Gerry and the Pacemakers song, as well as most Beatles parts save for the high falsettos, now alas sadly out of reach.

Posted by: aardunza | February 27, 2011 10:38 PM | Report abuse

And you knew you were in a Len Deighton novel directly (a Paul Scottism, there!) he ended a sentence with that great British phrase "would have done." :-)

Posted by: aardunza | February 27, 2011 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Evacuations from Tripoli, Qaddafi's stronghold, are more problematic than the eastern oil fields in the desert. Not that having the U.S. State Department chartering a ferry was such a great idea.

The Brits had previously sent the Royal Navy Cumberland to evacuate citizens from Benghazi.

other war ships:
"...India held off directly criticising Gaddafi, however, citing concerns over the security of its nationals, even as the government mobilised passenger ships in the Indian Ocean and ordered three naval ships, the INS Jalashwa [amphibious assault carrier], as well as two destroyers, to embark for the Libyan port of Benghazi and evacuate the [18,000]Indian citizens. The operation, codenamed ‘Safe Homecoming’, also saw the first batch of 530 Indians return home in two Air India flights over the last couple of days.
...As Indian Navy ships set sail for Benghazi, the Chinese diverted a modern warship, the Xuzhou, from anti-piracy operations off Somalia to the Libyan coast to protect passenger vessels evacuating its own nationals [about 3,000 of 30,000 Chinese have already left by ferries from Benghazi]. Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, called it China’s “biggest civilian evacuation operation”. ..."

Kind of surprised Ms. Rubin failed to note the Saturday 15-0 UNSC vote on Libya. I refuse to believe that the Obami were pivotal in securing yes votes from Russia and China, who abstained when it came to Darfur.

If anyone wants presidential leadership, watch the 1997 film "Air Force One", which starts with US Special Forces snatching the genocidal dictator from his bed in his heavily fortified palace. Followed by a very good speech by fictional president James Marshall.

Posted by: K2K2 | February 28, 2011 1:32 AM | Report abuse

China answered the 3AM call by sending a missile frigate to Libya. Posted by: pvilso24"

And your source for this is?
Posted by: ceflynline
Here's the link, provided by SCMike1 in the prior comment to pvilso24's:

Or did you mean where is the source that a call came to China at 3AM?

Posted by: aardunza | February 28, 2011 2:38 AM | Report abuse

So Jennifer, tell me, why do you have a column? So the Post can claim to represent both sides? Well it works...

There is the thoughtful, "let's get our people out before we blunder in there and create another Iran hostage situation" (remember this guy is nuts).

Then there's the macho, neo-con, right wing, knee jerk reflex, "let's bomb somebody and show them how tough we are"...

I wonder which was the smarter approach?

Posted by: bobgormandesign | February 28, 2011 6:53 AM | Report abuse

Look, we got bombs and stuff! Let's just bomb the daylights out of Libya. Drop the bombs from a 747 to remind them of Lockerbie! Invade the shores of Tripoli! Put Kaddafi's head on a spike, if you can find it, (and find a spike in the rubble)! Give Libya's oil to Exxon Mobil and give them a tax credit equal to the value of the oil so they have an incentive to sell it! Convert whatever Libyans remain to Christianity and then immediately ban reproductive services!

Ms Rubin, my dreams are even wackier than yours.

Posted by: randy1macon | February 28, 2011 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Ritchie said:
"Not that Obama would have the testosterone to do it, but I wonder if it'd be worth it if we simply killed Qaddafi (if logistically possible)."

Ritchie, I don't doubt your sincerity to want to help, but surely you realize we've already put our troops in the middle of a civil war and it's worked out for the worse by following this liberal agenda. I'm not bludgeoning neo/non-cons by stating this, am I?

If regime change happens without us having to go in, would that be so wrong? Why do we have to do the whole bleeding heart liberal thing abroad?

Sending children of real conservatives into a civil war isn't a sign of having testosterone, it's a lack there of.

At least be MAN enough to state that you would NEVER risk your neo/non-con child to do what you recommend, right??

Posted by: mfray | February 28, 2011 9:45 AM | Report abuse

"Elliott Abrams reports that China is teaching the US what it means to be a superpower."

China's rich and flush with money.

We're broke - in no small part due to this liberal and his cohorts.

Posted by: mfray | February 28, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

"the Chinese diverted a modern warship, the Xuzhou, from anti-piracy operations off Somalia to the Libyan coast to protect passenger vessels evacuating its own nationals [about 3,000 of 30,000 Chinese have already left by ferries from Benghazi]. Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, called it China’s “biggest civilian evacuation operation”. ..." Posted by: K2K2 |"

Well, the reference certainly says a lot.

The Xu Zhou is a 4k ton frigate, roughly the size of the old Knox Class USS De-s. The USS Francis Hammond, FF 1057 was a Yokosuka based frigate during Operation Frequent Wind in the late 70's, when all US Warships transiting the South China Sea were directed to transit in formations guaranteed to cover maximum areas of the SCS to look for refugee boats that were in distress.

Francis Hammond came upon such a boat, or boats, carrying 435 refugees, took them aboard and took them to Hong Kong. Hammond was so overloaded that friends of mine, (I was on the Knox at that time) said they were virtually falling over board. THAT was a record for one ship picking up refugees.

Xu Zhou would be every bit as badly overloaded were it to try evacuations. Of course, all it is supposed to be doing is "Protecting" ships evacuating Chinese Nationals.

Meanwhile the U.S. simply chartered a ferry, loaded it, waited for seas to subside, and took its people to Malta. No dramatics, no heroics, just calm seamanship and common sense.

So the comparison of Obama, "at 3AM", and China, "at 3AM" is quite ludicrous, because Obama did it as a normal part of being President, and China did it mostly for the publicity, as Libya hasn't made any threats or moves on foreign nationals leaving Libya, including U.S. nationals.

But what Drama, The Chinese rapidly divert a Frigate!!!

Makes about as much sense as calling a movie fantasy of Spec Ops people dragging a foreign dictator from his bed a good example of leadership.

Meanwhile there seems to be some kind of order forming out of the initial chaos in Libya and we may soon actually have someone to talk to about helping deal with a country where every legitimate aspect of government has been utterly eradicated by Kaddafi in order to deprive dissidents of a platform to attack him.

Maybe now we begin to get valid options.

Posted by: ceflynline | February 28, 2011 5:29 PM | Report abuse

"Thus we are left looking silly and weak." This is a good shorthand version of Obama foreign policy.

Posted by: drewmean | February 28, 2011 5:32 PM | Report abuse

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