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Posted at 1:11 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Our feeble Libya policy

By Jennifer Rubin

The perception that the Obama administration's Middle East policy is feeble, if not pathetic, grows daily. This report makes clear how little we are doing in comparison to our allies:

British and German military planes swooped into Libya's desert, rescuing hundreds of oil workers and civilians stranded at remote sites, as thousands of other foreigners are still stuck in Tripoli by bad weather and red tape.

The secret military missions into the turbulent North Africa country signal the readiness of Western nations to disregard Libya's territorial integrity when it comes to the safety of their citizens.

Three British Royal Air Force planes plucked 150 stranded civilians from multiple locations in the eastern Libyan desert before flying them to Malta on Sunday, the British Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The rescue follows a similar secret commando raid Saturday by British Special Forces that got another 150 oil workers from the remote Libyan desert.

Separately, Germany said its air force had evacuated 132 people also from the desert during a secret military mission on Saturday.

As Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, put it to me this morning: "First the Chinese; now we are being outdone by the Germans and the British."

In a real and very visible way we have ceded leadership. Writing in Politico over the weekend, Paul Wolfowitz of the American Enterprise Institute and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution argue for more robust action, even if the administration insists on multilateralism. They suggest four course corrections:

1) Immediate organization of humanitarian relief efforts;

2) An explicit decision that Qadhafi must go as a matter of U.S. policy -- which, it appears, has just been announced;

3) Establishment of a dialogue with anti-Qadhafi forces in the liberated cities;

4) Immediate diplomatic action to pave the way for international action of a more forceful sort should the situation take further turns for the worse in Libya.

In a separate piece in the Enterprise blog, Wolfowitz questions whether the arms embargo that was part of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 does more harm than good. From a summary of the resolution, Wolfowitz relates that the resolution appears to bar arms from going to either side in Libya.

He cautions:

No one who is thinking of supplying Qaddafi with arms at this point is going to care about what a UN resolution says. So this provision has no effect on Qaddafi now, though it might have sent a useful signal a week earlier.

However, the United States and other countries who might supply the rebels may not be able to legally do so until the resolution is changed. This will cause further delay and put weight on the side of those who are probably arguing that supplying arms to anyone would represent too much U.S. involvement.

If that sounds absurd, it is exactly what the United States and the "international community" did at the outset of the war in Bosnia 19 years ago. The embargo on the Bosnians remained in effect for years, depriving them of the means to defend themselves, with the argument advanced that supplying arms to either side would simply prolong the war. In fact, what prolonged the war was the weakness of the Bosnians. By depriving them of the means to defend themselves, the arms embargo caused tens of thousands of deaths and eventually required the United States to intervene militarily, deploying tens of thousands of American troops over the course of a decade. It left the government of Bosnia permanently shattered and strengthened radical influences, including foreign Islamist extremists, in Bosnian politics.

In other words, the U.S. has abdicated its role of international leadership, and what we are doing might be counterproductive. If not its intention, the Obama foreign policy team has certainly managed to minimize America's profile and influence in the Middle East at a critical juncture.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 28, 2011; 1:11 PM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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Fareed Zakaria GPS:

"ZAKARIA: You were in the administration that have - that normalized relations with Libya. It is the Bush administration that brought him in from the cold - from the cold. Were you opposed to that decision?

WOLFOWITZ: Look, I think we needed to give some acknowledgement to the fact that he handed over his nuclear weapons program. But it was an illegal program, and I thought we were giving him a lot by in effect saying you wouldn't suffer the fate of Saddam Hussein. I don't think we had to go nearly as far as we went.

There was a lot of pressure from Pan-Am 103 families because they wanted to collect the money that Gadhafi was offered. I -

ZAKARIA: Do you think that's really -

WOLFOWITZ: At one point, I believed - well, I was being told that the pressure was - I believe it was significant. I can't prove it. The United States went ahead and restored full diplomatic relations and had the Secretary of State visit.

I think we have should have drawn more of a line. Some move was appropriate. I think we went too far, and I think the Obama administration continued that."

The man who heaped spoons full of love towards attacking Iraq is shoveling garbage on shattered families of the Flight 103 nightmare. A real class act.

Posted by: member8 | February 28, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I honestly have no clue what Jennifer is proposing to be done in Libya that the administration is not already doing. Though perhaps someone who gives so much space to what Paul Wolfowitz, out of all people, thinks with regards to Middle Eastern policy, is not a particularly credible voice in this area.

Posted by: mustangs79 | February 28, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse,12444,4232

Posted by: rcaruth | February 28, 2011 1:58 PM | Report abuse

It is appalling that the Obama Administration is so feckless.

A columnist can recall the failed flawed Bosnian decision to not supply either side... whereas comon sense dictates we should supply the opposition !!

Can ANYONE in our $100 billion Government not see that as well ?

Clearly HUGE saving could be had by downsizing the bureaucracy, the intelligence and even military bureaucracy. It is so big no one makes decisions or is held accountable.

Posted by: pvilso24 | February 28, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I honestly have no clue what Jennifer is proposing to be done in Libya that the administration is not already doing. Posted by: mustangs79 | February 28, 2011 1:40 PM
Oh come on, it is clear what she wants done. She wants our planes to swoop in and save US nationals. Even if there are none there. That is what impresses people like her. Comic book style heroism, even when it is not needed. And then in the next blog post she'll argue that billions must be cut from the government, because it is wasteful.

Posted by: oldabandonedbeachhouse | February 28, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

FZ/"You think it was worth it?" IRAQ

WOLFOWITZ: Look, I - how you answer whether it was worth it, I mean, I don't know how you ask someone who's lost a loved one or who's been seriously maimed whether if it was worth it. That's a - I couldn't answer that for them.
I do think that WE'RE better off and the WORLD is better off without that regime there.(He just answered it for them)

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Paul Wolfowitz in a moment.

After the conflict which of course is never going to end. I don't think so Wolfowitz. Media Matters has his quote from 2003.

Wolfowitz: "We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction." As Think Progress noted, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz testified before Congress on March 27, 2003, that "the oil revenues of that country [Iraq] could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. Now, there are a lot of claims on that money, but that's --- we're not dealing with Afghanistan that's a permanent ward of the international community. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon."

Relatively soon... not relatively soon after the conflict ends. And he thinks it was worth it even after all the money and lives that have been wasted. Of course it's always worth it to chickenhawks like Wolfowitz who are never the ones shouldering the burden for their decisions.

In the future,anyone who supports a war,whether in the Government,or a civilian,needs to be required to fight in it. That will cool down the chickenhawkism. BYW,men or Women,Ta Ta Jen.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 28, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Wolfy, you're cute when you go all neocon on us.

Posted by: newsraptor | February 28, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer, Paul Wolfowitz???? Have you no shame???

Posted by: danw1 | February 28, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

With this administration, doing nothing is usually the best-case scenario. An enforcement of the arms embargo that would hinder the rebels would be incredibly stupid. UN resolutions are the same as doing nothing, but they make us look weak and foolish. A NATO no-fly zone might be a good idea. So would a well-aimed cruise missile.

Posted by: eoniii | February 28, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Rubin - blah, blah, blah -- you have
no credentials, and are simply a mouthpiece
for the wingnut hawks.

President Obama and his Administration are
doing the right things in the Middle

He is not the old man Bomb, Bomb, Bomb -
our President is an incredible leader,
who is respected world-wide. Unlike
the Bushies who destroyed not only our
economy, but our credibility in the world.

Posted by: Sirius2 | February 28, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

To the War loving chickenhawks:
In 1967,I was drafted,despite my hatred of the War we were waging,I served 3 years in the Regular Army,and Three years in the Inactive Reserves. I met many heros during those six years,many highly decorated combat soldiers. Many of them hated the War as much as I did,yet participated in combat,often with great personal heroism.
In contrast,I despise the Neo-Con Hawks who never served a day in Iraq/Afghanistan,and who dodged the draft in the sixties.
If I could,I would dismantle the all professional military and replace it with a military of citizen-civilian soldiers. That's another check and balance we badly need since Congress no longer is in charge of Declarations of War.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 28, 2011 3:22 PM | Report abuse

rcaruth, I don't see how a military of draftees can compare to a military of soldiers who choose to enlist. Especially when you consider how much more technologically sophisticated warfare is today.

I supported the Iraq War with reservations, but I hope we have learned from it the limitations of nation-building and large-scale military occupation. We need to punish our enemies militarily when absolutely necessary, and even occasionally remove regimes, but then get the hell out. We should have focused more on Iran than Iraq.

Posted by: eoniii | February 28, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I know it seems much sexier to rescue your citizens with clandestine military flights into desert areas than to send a ferry to the docks of Tripoli.

However, perhaps a ferry makes sense if your citizens are concentrated in the Tripoli area with good access to the harbor.

I think the mode of transport depends largely on the location of the evacuees.

Ferries don't work so well in the desert, although airplanes do.

Posted by: Mannie_Davis | February 28, 2011 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Another one of the Post's brain-dead neo-cons who thinks that the US is supposed to control the world. How many does one paper need anyway?

I know this is beyond Rubin's feeble intellectual abilities, but I think most people can grasp the idea that the Libyan revolution needs to come from and belong to...wait for it...the LIBYANS!!!

So far they have been making pretty good progress. There have been casualties, yes. But my guess is that a people who have fought and suffered to win back their country will take more care in creating their new government. If someone else wins it for them (especially if that someone else is the US) how will their situation be any different? They would just be trading one tyrant for another.

Of course at the bottom of all this is the fact that racist neo-cons like Rubin don't believe that Arabs should have any so say in their own lives.

Posted by: karlmarx2 | February 28, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

karlmarx2 -- ROFLMAO

Was stalin2 or mao2 already taken?

Posted by: eoniii | February 28, 2011 4:36 PM | Report abuse

rcaruth, I don't see how a military of draftees can compare to a military of soldiers who choose to enlist. Especially when you consider how much more technologically sophisticated warfare is today.

That's not the point,Citizen Soldiers are more difficult to control/manipulate,and that's the check we need on the General Staff. If the Generals f--k up with a civilian army,there's going to be h--l to pay. With a professional army,"Theirs is not to reason why"

Posted by: rcaruth | February 28, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

@eeeeooniiii: irony - look it up. I hear they even have dictionaries online.

Otherwise, did you have a point to make?

Posted by: karlmarx2 | February 28, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I supported the Iraq War with reservations, but I hope we have learned from it the limitations of nation-building and large-scale military occupation.

Like we didn't learn that lesson with our nation building experiment with South Vietnam,so we didn't learn it with Iraq/Afghanistan. So NeoCon Jen and her ChickenHawk buddies want to try again with Egypt,Iran,and Lybia,and eventually China,Russia,North Korea,Venezuela,and Cuba. There's never an end to NeoTrotsky wet dreams.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 28, 2011 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Seems clear conservatives wanted Obama administration to act rashly so Americans would be murdered in Libya and taken hostage.

Clearly it is prudent to get Americans out before harsh word or sanctions and other measures announced.

Conservatives can't be trusted in these matters let alone allowed to reduce America to a plantation economy.

Posted by: ptrppr100 | February 28, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Republcans Supported Dictator Saddam Hussein Too. Reagan and Rummy loved the guy. Armed him, hugged and kissed him, gave him the ok to invade Kuwait (via ambassador April Gillespie) and then Knifed the country in the back twice, killing tens of thousands, displacing millions. (2 Iraq wars)
And yet the neo-cons can't understand why the Arabs hate us so much. Maybe it's because that is standard operating procedure for everything they do both at home and abroad??

Posted by: ptrppr100 | February 28, 2011 6:27 PM | Report abuse

We extracted our diplomatic corps already because we knew where they were and where to meet them for rescue. The Germans and British extracted citizens from specific sites also, but there are still Brits in Libya trying to get out. There are also still Chinese workers at the Tunisian border according to the BBC. We still have an unknown number of U.S. citizens in Libya because we do not closely track the whereabouts of private citizens traveling abroad. They are not required to report to the State Dept when they leave the U.S. This policy would seem to fit Ms. Rubin's "limited government" preference. The State Dept is reporting that the Libyan govt is denying our requests to allow chartered planes in so we have few options besides a covert operation. If Ms Rubin would like to lead a covert operation to extract more Americans she is welcome to do so. She might first want to determine where these stranded Americans are and where they should go to meet her secret mission. She should also determine how they would get to the secret location from their locations within a vast and turbulent country. My guess would be that they are mostly in Tripoli, which as she might have heard is still under Gaddafi control. She might also be aware that until a no fly zone is inacted (no small order in itself) her plane would likely be intercepted and engaged by the Libyan air force.

Posted by: tektonic | February 28, 2011 7:40 PM | Report abuse

My grandfather was killed in France in WW II, my father who attended Annapolis, told me, before his death a few years ago, that Neville Chamberlain was responsible for his fathers death.

I'm 50 and didn't join the military, but it appears that now we have a similiar situation. With a 14 year old son, I need Obama out. This seems all too faminiar.

Posted by: guruvinny | February 28, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

My grandfather was killed in France in WW II, my father who attended Annapolis, told me, before his death a few years ago, that Neville Chamberlain was responsible for his fathers death.

I'm 50 and didn't join the military, but it appears that now we have a similiar situation. With a 14 year old son, I need Obama out. This seems all too faminiar.

Posted by: guruvinny | February 28, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

guruvinny: Are you suggesting we invade Libya now before Gaddafi invades Poland?

Posted by: tektonic | February 28, 2011 7:55 PM | Report abuse

President Ronald Reagan rushed into Lebanon, with full glory of U.S. Marines, to save the day. A few days later 240 Marines were blown up, we attempted a feeble response and lost a few more Airmen, one whose release was negotiated by Jesse Jackson.
President Reagan withdrew, withdrew, withdrew our mighty U.S. Marines and never anything else was spoken of that horror. Why did these brave U.S. Marines die? So the USA presence would scare the hell out of our enemies and make them run away in fear...didn't happen. So good men died because some people in government wanted to play soldier with real American lives...the memory of good men dying for nothing is still disgusting!
So, please Ms. Rubin, what in the heck is President Obama to do *with someone else's lives to make you and the other right wingers satisfy your chest thumping?*
If the USA is the baddest, biggest guy on the block (and we are) you don't have to remind people, or nations of that fact, they know already.
It was probably determined amongst our allies that the order of protest against Libya would be led by Germany, Britain, and France. Isn't proper to leave the smaller engagements to our Allies....someone told me that we are already fighting two (2) freaking wars now!
The Ms. Rubin, Charles Krauthammer, and other right wingers plus the other insecure John Wayne-ites are not secure in the knowledge of who the USA is, but they need instead to see and hear Jets flying overhead to believe it themselves.
Thank God, President Obama is not a Cowboy with somebodys elses sons and daughters lives.

Posted by: october30 | February 28, 2011 8:37 PM | Report abuse

october30, our Marines were sent to Lebanon in 1982 as peacekeepers at the request of the warring parties. They were part of a multi-national force including British, French and Italian forces. Their mission was to prevent further fighting among the various Lebanese factions, the PLO, and the Israelis -- essentially to save Beirut from destruction.

Like our humanitarian foray into Somalia, this expedition served no strategic US interest. After Hezbollah blew up our embassy and our Marine barracks at the direction of Iran, Reagan decided Lebanon wasn't worth any more American lives and withdrew. Whatever the merits of this decision, it emboldened our enemies in the region. Osama bin-Laden has cited that incident as evidence that America is a "weak horse".

Posted by: eoniii | February 28, 2011 9:41 PM | Report abuse

The opening line -- "The perception that the Obama administration's Middle East policy is feeble, if not pathetic, grows daily" -- is, of course, a typically vacuous Fox News talking point. But that is not the most comedic line in this joke of a column.

As others have pointed out, to add the name Paul Wolfowitz to anything is to invite hysterical laughter. For that matter, to refer to "the American Enterprise Institute" or "the Brookings Institution" is to invite pretty much the same reaction. Does even Rubin take any of this seriously? Hard to say with Rubin, who is, at least ostensibly, a true believer.

Posted by: J_B_A | February 28, 2011 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Now this is going to be interesting Hitting the wires now, turns out W was sending prisoners to Libya to be tortured, gonna make it interesting to see how they prosecute Gaddafi for war crimes, turns out W is gonna have to be a co-defendent

Posted by: ptrppr100 | February 28, 2011 10:05 PM | Report abuse

J_B_A, I edited your post to remove the condescension, ad hominems and other cheap shots. The result, in my opinion, is much improved:

The opening line -- "The perception that the Obama administration's Middle East policy is feeble, if not pathetic, grows daily" --

Posted by: eoniii | February 28, 2011 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Whew, the lefty wingnuts are out in force today.

In all the foolishness in the above remarks, October30 has to take the brass ring: "Thank God, President Obama is not a Cowboy with somebodys elses sons and daughters lives."

Um, dude. Have you looked at the Afganistan casualties figures lately? Remember, Obama told us hundreds of times in 2008 that Afganistan was the correct, necessary war. We had to find bin Laden, and so forth. He then sent 30,000 additional troops to Afganistan to fight. So how is that hope and change working out?

There have been 1300 coalition fatalities since the beginning of 2009, and Obama is on track to produce more war dead than Bush.

The biggest difference between Bush and Obama is that the mainstream media (and lefty commenters) have developed a remarkable deafness and blindness to the real news on the ground. No more reading the names of the KIAs on the nightly news, that's for sure.

Posted by: TYoke | February 28, 2011 10:10 PM | Report abuse

It appears the Administration is finally taking the advice or at least listening to Paul, William, Jennifer, John, et al, and moving military assets into place in anticipation of possible military action , and ratcheting up pressure and sanctions on Libya with all deliberate speed. I forget -- is Obama a neocon? Or maybe just a bit "Hermanesque" (i.e., PeeWee) -- "I know you are but what am I?"

Posted by: aardunza | February 28, 2011 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Guruvinny, you don't want to deny your son the opportunity to die in one of Americas foreign wars do you? That's what American kids are for.

Posted by: member8 | February 28, 2011 10:35 PM | Report abuse


Care to say whose "perception" -- apart from Fixed News -- you have in mind?

Posted by: J_B_A | February 28, 2011 10:58 PM | Report abuse

I think what you mean is our feeble, lame muslim deer in the headlights leadership of wimp Barry "the muslim stooge" obama. How is that hopey changy thing workin' out for you?

Posted by: carlbatey | February 28, 2011 11:12 PM | Report abuse

I will not dignify this with a response. I have given up hope on Ms. Rubin ability to analyze objectively and rationally. Her rationale has more holes than Swiss cheese.I thought I would be upset, but instead I ended up laughing at the entire article. I am still laughing...:-DD..

Posted by: Obamarama1 | February 28, 2011 11:27 PM | Report abuse


The answer to your question depends on who you are and where you live. Murbarak, Gadhafi, and some other folks aren't feeling too good about USA in general, and President Obama in particular. Here in USA, however, the news is exceptionally good. Most of us -- though by no means all -- strongly support the President. And, needless to say, the President's personal popularity remains sky high.

Your post suggests that English in not your native language. Are you from a third world country? If you don't mind me asking, which one?

Posted by: J_B_A | February 28, 2011 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Obama isn't doing enough... Obama is doing too much. As usual, conservative critics sound like Goldilocks: "the porridge is too hot, too cool; the bed is too soft, too hard".

If we have "do" something, then how letting the European Union be in charge in this time? Or will that offend the neocons who want to see American planes shooting down Libyan Migs?

Posted by: 82ndairborne | March 1, 2011 12:05 AM | Report abuse

The policy in Libya is indeed feeble, but in Iran there is complete negligence, as no one even speaks when opposition leaders disappear in Iran.

Posted by: Orientalist | March 1, 2011 7:01 AM | Report abuse

Paul Wolfowitz criticized the president... Barack Obama,,,,President of the United States of Anerica..of "dithering" on Libya. This guy, What a miserable disgusting hypocrite this guy is, Are you kidding me? This guy said that Iraqi oil would pay for all US costs for war in Iraq. Are you kidding? This guy belongs in prison with W. and Cheney. Wolfowitz belongs in gitmo to fend for himself. My god! Why is he still free?

Posted by: ptrppr100 | March 1, 2011 8:44 AM | Report abuse

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