Obama's timid words on Libya
The Post reports:
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi launched renewed airstrikes against two key rebel-held towns Thursday, a day after poorly armed citizens repelled a major government assault on the area.
As they have been at nearly every juncture since the series of Middle East uprisings has swept across the region, Obama's words were pathetically insufficient. At a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, all he could muster was a repetition of past comments. "We will continue to send a clear message: The violence must stop," the president said. But that message is being ignored, so what is he going to do about it? He was vague about a no-fly zone. ("That is one of the options that we would be looking at.")
What about the slaughter of Libyan civilians? Obama said, again with remarkable imprecision, that Gaddafi's supporters would "be held accountable." (By whom? For what?) And, besides, Obama observed, "They should know that history is moving against Colonel Gaddafi."
The question, however, is whether we are moving against Gaddafi. Conservative critics of the president are growing increasingly distressed by the abject lack of initiative. Phil Terzian of The Weekly Standard writes persuasively:
The fact that the president has waited so long to make any public gesture in this direction, and the forum in which he addressed Qaddafi--a joint press conference with the president of Mexico--surely detracts from any power his words might have carried. So, too, does his reasoning: Qaddafi, says Obama, "has lost the legitimacy to lead"--a phrase which combines turgid language with the implication that Qaddafi, who staged a coup d'état and has exercised dictatorial power since 1969, was ever Libya's "legitimate" leader. . . .
The Obama administration is not only reluctant to advance (or, for that matter, defend) the national interest in Libya, but seems to regard the national interest as suspect in itself. President Obama has always been careful to personalize policy under these circumstances: The Muslim world, or the Arab states, have been addressed by Barack Obama, not by the president of the United States. Why the president should think as he does is another subject, but the crisis in Libya only emphasizes that it is so.
Accordingly, in Libya, the United States has not only turned its back on a heroic resistance movement, and missed an opportunity to advance democracy in the Middle East, but visibly weakened American power as well. President Obama has been manifestly more concerned about the welfare of U.S. citizens in Libya--or put another way, the political implications of a hostage crisis--than about the welfare of American national interests. When asked about the feasibility of a "no-fly" zone in Libya, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has described in detail the difficulties inherent in such a course of action, and the secretary of defense has implied that U.S. military power may not be equal to the challenge of the Libyan air force. Nobody, especially those within Libya pleading for Western help, can fail to comprehend the meaning of such talk.
I must sadly agree with Phil's conclusion that, once again, "the United States has not only missed an opportunity to make history in the region, but has signaled our unwillingness, and our apparent inability, to defend and advance American interests abroad."
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies also points to Defense Secretary Robert Gates's pooh-poohing the idea of a no-fly zone and tells me, "it appears this administration wishes to avoid military intervention." At all costs, it seems.
The Obama administration's lack of leadership has now provoked some congressional Republicans (who generally have been reluctant to criticize Obama on the Middle East revolutions) to speak up. Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virg.) issued a respectful statement in an apparent effort to nudge the administration into action:
"We are all very concerned about the situation we see unfolding on the streets of Libya. Moammar Gadhafi has demonstrated a total disregard for innocent life, something that strikes at the core of who we are as Americans. Gadhafi has also shown that he is a sponsor of terrorism. We do not and will not tolerate such behavior. I agree with the Administration that Gadhafi needs to resign immediately.
Going forward, it is very important for us to know what the opposition movement in Libya needs so they are able to restore some order and perhaps we can encourage the growth of freedom and democracy that seems to be sprouting throughout the Middle East. We will work with the Administration to execute policies that promote our U.S. security interests in the region, as well as fostering an environment where we can see the loss of innocent life stop and the spread of more freedom."
Unfortunately, there is no sign that the Obama team has such policies. Just when you think Obama's foreign policy can't get any worse, it does. There is no better illustration than our current paralysis over Libya.
| March 3, 2011; 7:03 PM ET
Categories: foreign policy
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