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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 03/ 4/2011

Friday question

By Jennifer Rubin

The massacre of civilians goes on in Libya. The U.N. and our allies have been more outspoken than the Obama administration. Along with China, European powers have not been timid about using their military to assist in rescue efforts. By the end of the week, Obama was personally calling for Gaddafi to leave Libya but was fuzzy on what actions the U.S. might take.

This week's question: How do you think Obama is handling Libya's civil war, and what, if anything, do you think he should do differently? Remember all answers must be in by 6:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 4, 2011; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Friday question  
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Comments

Obama's doing fine. He ought to keep doing what he's doing which is letting the Libyans fight it out on their own.

Posted by: steveh46 | March 4, 2011 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Obama can do nothing to help his situation.

He has (former) allies who do not trust him and enemies that hate him. Voting "present" - diplospeak, battleship repositioning, and inaction, - pantywaists him and and renders him moot. Armed intervention will rile those he has spent so much time bowing and appeasing, and will further alienate his "no more war" constituency. The continuing debacles in Afghanistan (Mission "Failure w/ Dignity"), Pakistan (w/ Carter hostage redux), and Somali pirates (Obama is no Jefferson), shreds any move towards muscle flexing.

Our enemies smell blood, our friends see cowardice, arrogance, and cluelessness (hey let's give Gadafi a reset button!). Obama's loyal few are urging him to lead (Where's Waldo indded - hat tip Ruth Marcus). Alas the emperor is naked and has no clothes. Send out Joe Biden, that's the ticket.

Posted by: ploni | March 4, 2011 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Obama really has no choice but to sit and hope nothing lands on him.
By all means, however, the State Department and perhaps the CIA, absolutely dropped the ball on the cascade, was caught completely unprepared for events.
I suppose that is typical for the Mideast and Arabic nations, but exhibits foundational incompetence nonetheless.

Posted by: daskinner | March 4, 2011 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Obama has been a cipher: inactive, incoherent, insensitive. The NATO countries can take purposeful action. If the rebels are losing, they will agree to outside help--they must be made to understand that the UN cannot do it, because Russia and/or China will veto action in the Security Council.

THUS: (1) This means ignoring the UN, as Bill Clinton did re Kosovo. (2) It means putting Gaddafi's planes & tanks out of commission--if a "no-fly" zone is too burdensome, use specialized munitions to crater the runways (cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles), grounding Gaddafi's planes. (3) Take out his air defenses, then send in tank-killer air-strikes. (4) Use the porous border with Egypt to send in arms. (5) Establish a safe zone encompassing Libya's eastern oil-fields (most of Libya's oil), plus key ports (Tobruk, Benghazi) depriving Gaddafi of essential revenues.

If these are done, Gaddafi is toast.

John Wohlstetter
Discovery Institute
Blog; Letter from the Capitol

Posted by: jcw47mypost | March 4, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

John Wohlstetter says:

"If these are done, Gaddafi is toast."

If these are done, we will be involved in another war. If Gaddafi is toast, we will also be responsible for creating a new government to replace the one we (not the Libyan people) have destroyed. We will have another Iraq and Afghanistan. We can't afford the wars we have... why start another one?

Posted by: michael_chaplan | March 4, 2011 8:58 PM | Report abuse

The President is actively observing. He is examining and re-examining policy options, hoping for a resolution without US input. It's hard to tell the difference between actively observing and his good old fashioned dithering (see Afghanistan). I believe he is still disoriented from the shambles of his Muslim Outreach. In 26 months Obama has watched Iranian and Syrian engagement fall apart in tatters. Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia and now Libya are now in disarray. I think he expected his overseas popularity, coupled with his promotion of a more nuanced globalist vision, would trump a more traditional US foreign policy toward the Middle East. Instead, chaos reigns. Now he is stuck with traditional US foreign policy options and he fears making the wrong decision.

What he should do, is do what he says. If he's concerned about a refugee disaster, or mass slaughter, he should state it (not Hillary) and move supplies and equipment to the region accordingly. If a no fly zone is feasible he should publicly state it so, and implement it. If he does not think a no fly zone is feasible, he should say so, and keep his powder dry. We simply do not know what he wants (now that "smart diplomacy" is anything but) and he should assertively educate: the public, our adversaries and our friends of both his administration's strategy and attendant tactics. Otherwise, we will continue to be as confused as to Obama's Middle East intentions as the Libyan's already are.

Posted by: TheStatistQuo | March 4, 2011 11:28 PM | Report abuse

It's an idiotic question. There's nothing for Obama to "handle". I know it's a difficult concept for many (especially the kind of neo-con retard who ends up on the WaPo payroll), but the American government is NOT responsible for "handling" all things everywhere.

Posted by: SGlover910 | March 5, 2011 12:37 AM | Report abuse

Here is another Rubin gem: "Obama was personally calling for Gaddafi to leave Libya but was fuzzy on what actions the U.S. might take."

The word "fuzzy" is typical of super-clown Rubin's complete incompetence to express an opinion on anything. Has no one ever schooled Rubin on the concept of artful ambiguity -- especially in high-stakes international affairs, where often the worst possible move is to alert one's opponents of exact details about one's intentions and plans? Obviously not.

I try never to miss Jennifer Rubin's columns. Her jaw-dropping ability to express thoughts that 12-year-old would be proud of is one of life's simple, recurring pleasures.

Posted by: J_B_A | March 5, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

He's voting [present].

Evidently he doesn't believe that there is anything to be gained by committing a squadron of F-18s, and a single MEU (2200 men) to keep the peace while the Libyans strip the Gaddafis of their kleptocracy.

To your question, it damages the USA and the world for a US president to equivocate and hide. So, no, I don't think he's doing a good job. If he believes it's not our fight (same position as Pat Buchanon), fine. Say so. (Buchanon did.)

Really, Pat Buchanon could be Obama's SecState this week.

Posted by: IowaHawkeye | March 5, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Obama should stop acting like a transnational apologist for imperialism that ended before he was born.

I would add to John Wohlstetter's five actions: 1) that the Arab League, especially Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria who are members of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue, be public partners on all of these actions, in addition to the credible opposition council leaders in Benghazi, and as many NATO allies as possible - the Dutch already have a causus belli.

2) The safe zone for oil infrastructure in the east to include the water supply pipelines to Benghazi.

3) Libya's opposition leaders are NOT asking for weapons from the U.S., but I think JW's suggestion implies that the Egyptians help out - they already have Special Froces inside Libya.

4) I prefer to see Egyptian and Algerian tanks laying seige to Qaddafi's central command in Tripoli than targeted missile strikes from a US destroyer or airplane.

5) The USS Kearsarge starts to evacuate the seriously wounded from Benghazi for treatment in their excellent hospital; and
6) that both the Kearsarge and Ponce start delivering humanitarian aid to opposition-held coastal cities on the beaches, as soon as the leadership asks.

7) Also, the US should start publishing any satellite images that support evidence of massacres, although I do think many dead bodies will be of migrant workers from Sub-Saharan Africa who tried to escape through the desert to Niger and Chad.

Personally, if US Marines are going to land anywhere, I prefer it be Cote D'Ivoire in order to free the cocoa bean crop currently held hostage in warehouses before the cocoa beans rot. While I am not happy about the rising gas and fuel oil prices, I do not want a global cocoa crisis!

Posted by: K2K2 | March 5, 2011 1:31 PM | Report abuse

He needs to get the aircraft carriers out there so he land on one and strut before a Mission Accomplished banner, even if the mission is so undefined that there is not telling whether it is accomplished or not. Worked last time to get a President reelected.

Posted by: eerock | March 5, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

My sense is that the President has been weak in his response. I have little doubt that another President may have felt the need to respond more forcefully. However, I feel his response can be justified, although one could also justify other responses.

First, I'd like to dispose of the analogy made in the question to military responses from other countries. The fact of the matter is that Britain or China or France can intervene militarily to protect their citizens and no one will consider them responsible for controlling events on the ground because it is understood that they cannot. Any US intervention will immediately raise the issue of what we are doing in relation to what we could be doing and in relation to doing nothing. Only the US is in position to materially affect conditions on the ground, and we will be judged accordingly to a different standard than any other actor.

We have to recognize that there are costs to our intervention. If we impose a no-fly zone, or if we attack targets to restrain government massacres, or if we arm one or more factions in Libya, we become -- in the eyes of many -- responsible for the character of the resulting government. Thus, there are problems with the assumption that we can intervene on the cheap. For example, we concluded that arming rebels in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets was cheap. While I supported that policy, I think it is undeniable that the policy cost more than was originally intended because we tried to walk away from the chaos in the aftermath of the Soviet defeat.

The point here is that we need information to calculate the actual risks of intervening. It would be nice to think that we have some intelligence on Libya, and that President Obama and other senior officials have an inkling about who the actors on the ground are and what their motivations may be. On the other hand, we've suffered enough egregious intelligence failures that few would be surprised if the government knows nothing more than what CNN has reported.

Ultimately, we have to decide if we have sufficient confidence in any faction on the ground to justify investing US prestige in the outcome. (I'm assuming that we're neither capable nor prepared to go deep undercover with a 1950s-style CIA plot.) There's a good chance that President Obama simply doesn't know enough to do that. As a result, an intervention is a high-stakes roll of the dice. It could come out well, but it could also bring about another ghastly dictator and/or an islamist state.

All of that said, I think that President Obama's inactivity is also characteristic. He questions the legitimacy of US interventions in the past, believing them to be a form of imperialism, and undoubtedly has a high bar for initiating any new intervention. Conversely, he doesn't recognize any special US role or obligation in the maintenance of international order; that's something for the world community to do.

Posted by: rodomontade | March 5, 2011 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Obama could publicly announce that any country which gives Qaddafi or any of his thugs refuge or sanctuary, including Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, or even Turkey, will face international sanctions and embargoes.
This would show that there is at least some steel somewhere in Obama's heretofore inconsistent, weak, and appeasement oriented foreign policy.

Posted by: Beniyyar | March 5, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

"Obama could publicly announce that any country which gives Qaddafi or any of his thugs refuge or sanctuary, including Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, or even Turkey, will face international sanctions and embargoes.
This would show that there is at least some steel somewhere in Obama's heretofore inconsistent, weak, and appeasement oriented foreign policy. Posted by: Beniyyar"

Carefully thought that through, did you?

Part of the current problem is that Khadaffi has so alienated every country he might flee to that he has no where to go. Since he has no where to decamp to, he is stuck sitting in his tent near Tripoli and hoping his mercs do a good job of protecting his hide.

We don't have to admonish anyone not to accept Khaddaffi because nobody wants him in the first place. In fact, if negotiations reached the point where he would give up his dreams of being High King of Africa, we would have to bribe Some poor island like Narau to take him.

I challenged anyone who thinks Obama ought to take action to describe the action and estimate the cost.

No takers so far, just the usual bluster about bombing and no fly and sell arms.

Oh, yea, and send in the air craft carriers.

What aircraft carriers?

All those ships from China and France and Shangri-La are just now getting there to pull out their various countries various nationals.

Obama did THAT last week, using a commercial ferry.

But the challenge still stands.

My example WAS wrong, due to tired and not checking. Two Army Corps is six divisions. We don't have the six divisions, don't have the two corps headquarters and support brigades like engineers and transportation and Intelligence groups. We don't have the logistics troops. Don't have the wart hogs.

And we can't raise taxes to pay for any of that, and my $50 billion a year estimate still stands.

So would one of you b...hy Republicans care to take a crack at actually specifying a course of action, and not just a complaint that Obama hasn't done it the way you want?

Thought not.

Posted by: ceflynline | March 5, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

The Obama administration’s handling of the Libya situation / crisis / issue is unprecedented, and they are doing everything they can to avoid any involvement of US military forces; chartering a fair-weather ferry to retrieve US nationals is a notion that not even the crew at Saturday Night Live would use in a skit. I was going to joke that Obama was going to deploy the HHS Sibelius to take care of Libya, but refrained because he just might.

To top that, we have a SecDef announcing that a no-fly zone would be difficult to put in place. Why That’s Fantastic, too hard? If no-fly zones were easy, we’d not have invaded Iraq in 2003. So what if a US aircraft carrier doesn’t carry enough planes, doesn’t Italy -- a member of NATO last time I checked -- have an airbase or two that could handle our planes? Don’t we run Aviano Air Base and keep some of those ancient F-16s there? Gates is a good man, the answer he should have given was that the DOD stands ready to implement whatever the president so orders. And why bother with a no-fly zone? Shouldn’t we consider inserting enough special ops folks to find Gaddafi and his loyalists and send in UAVs or manned aircraft to blow him up real good?

This whole episode is puzzling and will have many unintended and some dire consequences.

The main one is that Gaddafi can be pretty confident that he’ll face no force from the US; the guy’s unstable enough to think that he can prevail. The rebels have gotten the message that only the UK is willing and somewhat able to apply some military force. Worldwide the bad guys are getting the message that the US has lost its mojo, that we’re no longer a player. Instead of doing something hard like this ( http://www.leatherneck.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11400 ), we’re nothing but a bunch of fair-weather fairies that can huff and puff pretty durn well, but will not follow through.

Durn it, even Peter Pan took on the pirates!

How does he change this impression? He needs to decide on some bold action, announce it, then follow through. We don’t have to occupy Libya, but we can work with the Brits to lance the boil who’s ruled the place for two score years.

Posted by: SCMike1 | March 6, 2011 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Jen,

Obama is taking the old view of stability in the Middle East at the exclusion of the people there (oil) over promoting American values in the interest of the people of the Middle East. He is doing this in the interest of his electoral prospect next year because he has left America vulnerable with his energy policies domestically to these very crises in the Middle East. What the Bush administration tried to reverse in the aftermath of 9-11, the perception of American indifference to plight of the people in the Middle East in favor of oil, Obama is cementing with his approach to the uprising in oil rich nations like Libya and Iran.

What Obama should do differently is to not just mouth support for the people of Libya (or for that matter Iran) but demonstrate his support by implementing a No-Fly zone, getting into direct contact with this opposition trying to mount a military offensive on Tripoli, and then look to see if we have the military assets to assist this opposition, after we have assessed their fitness to govern and implement democratic reforms, to overthrow the regime and bring Gaddahfi to justice.

This can be done as we were able to do in Afghanistan in 2001, when the CIA identified the Northern Alliance and embedded Special Forces with them to lead their offensive all the way to Kabul. We used Special Forces to pinpoint air strikes to aid the Northern Alliance and the same can be done in Libya, without stretching our military, already in Iraq and Afghanistan, too thin.

For long-term stability in the Middle East the policies of the Bush Administration to promote freedom and dignity in the Middle East must be continued. This can be done, while we keep an eye on the stability of the flow of energy, especially if we adopt an all of the above energy approach to achieve energy independence here at home.

Posted by: stevendufresne | March 6, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

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