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Posted at 7:03 PM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Obama's timid words on Libya

By Jennifer Rubin

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'├ętat 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.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 3, 2011; 7:03 PM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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As with Egypt, the president is trying to *obtain results*, not vent spleen. You wouldn't understand.

Let's see, what did you write about the president's handling of the Egypt situation the morning before Mubarak left... Oh, here it is: "One can scarcely imagine how the U.S. in its handling of the Egyptian revolution could look more inept and less effective. ... Initial caution was followed by insistence that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 'transition now.' That, in turn, morphed into agreement to a very gradual transition. But Mubarak has let it be known he's taking no direction from anyone and going nowhere, at least not now."

We get it. You're a hack. You hate the president. You have no policy views but a manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief.

Posted by: eelvisberg | March 3, 2011 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Is Jennifer honestly suggesting the US, on its own, stage a military intervention into Libya? Is she really this naive? Does she think this is an action movie where Gaddafi will fall and democracy will magically form allowing the US to leave Libya safe and secure in a week or two?

Maybe she has just forgotten, but we are kind of involved in two other wars at the moment. Perhaps rushing into a third conflict with poorly defined goals and little planning isn't necessarily a good idea.

Posted by: mustangs79 | March 3, 2011 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Obama said he would transform America, but he never told us exactly what that transformation means. His interests and America's interests are not the same. He's doing exactly what he's dreamed of doing since he was a young, committed marxist.

Posted by: Dalibama | March 3, 2011 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with Obama's reluctance on this one, which is a rare occurrence. I'd much rather just airdrop weapons to the rebels and let them do their own fighting, hopefully weapons that we can remotely destroy or defeat if Gaddafi seizes them.

This is a job for the UN, with the United States contributing only about 1/10 the the total effort. It's time that the UN proves that they're good for something besides taking up New York parking space.

Like Gates said, we would have to devote hundreds of airplanes and HARM missiles to knock out Libya's RADAR controlled SAM defenses first, possibly at the cost of billions of dollars if we loose any planes in the process. I used to work on the HARM missile (AGM-88a version), and can tell you that it is mostly based on 1980's technology. There is no guarantee that Libya's defenses haven't been upgraded to make the HARM ineffective, such as with LIDAR.

The only way to find out is to try it, at the possible cost of dozens of very expensive planes and elite pilots, neither of which we have anywhere near enough of, especially if we ever had to defend ourselves against a major power like China, Russia, or even Iran and N. Korea anytime in this decade.

Besides all that, we have no real interest in Libya. We would all love to see Gaddafi dead because of the nightclub and Lockerbe bombings, but they only supply about 2% of our oil. It would be much cheaper for us to just pay more for gasoline, do some more domestic drilling, or better yet, build more nuclear plants to supply the electric cars being introduced.

Let Libyans determine Libya's fate. The Muslim Brotherhood has already told us that we're not welcome, anyway.

Posted by: iluv9mm | March 3, 2011 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Rubin's latest anti-Obamaism: "Just when you think Obama's foreign policy can't get any worse, it does."

The truth: The Obama administration -- which of course includes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates -- has been nothing short of stellar so far. Pretty much perfect on Egypt, and almost certainly exactly right on Libya. Only a myopian of the mentality of Jennifer Rubin would completely miss what is obvious to everyone else in the world.

Posted by: J_B_A | March 3, 2011 10:02 PM | Report abuse

"Everyone else in the world"? Really, J_B_A?

Posted by: eoniii | March 3, 2011 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Oh Boy, we currently have to fight two ill conceived wars with troops enough for about half a war and taxes for no war at all and the Conservatives want to get into a third war.

SO, people, you want a war, tell us, what troops, what support, what conditions, and what taxes.

We have NO divisions, No brigades, no Battalions even not currently worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan. NONE.

So, where do you propose to find the troops to fight. Be specific, what units and how do you organize them? How much Air Force support required, how do you organize it?

That tells you how many billions it will cost. How do you pay for it?

To control Libya figure two Army Corps, nine triangular divisions. More than 100,000 men. An Air Division minimum. Perhaps 150,000 men$10 billion a year for the men and $20 billion for equipment. You won't get out at less than $50 Billion a year from experience. So where do the funds come from?

Now where do you get the divisions, the support brigades, the airmen and the air planes? You can draft a division and have it combat ready in just over six months if you don't expect too much for the first month in a combat zone. Provided, of course, you have the bases to train. We can't currently train more than perhaps four divisions at a time, so we need a year and a half just to raise the troops. You need yet another nine divisions getting ready to go and relieve them, Three years of full bore training divisions, and that doesn't allow for much training to support the current active divisions fighting Georgie's ill conceived wars.

So, which of you fire eaters wants to be first to enlist to fight yet another war we don't need and Republicans will only support with their mouths?

We wait for an answer, but we DON'T hold our breath

Posted by: ceflynline | March 3, 2011 11:00 PM | Report abuse


Breaking footage has just been posted to YouTube of Gaddafi landing in France. I knew the French would accept him with open arms:

Remember all the contracts they gave to Sadam? The defied the UN back then, and they are doing it again!

Posted by: webcontent2011 | March 4, 2011 12:20 AM | Report abuse

If it is not now when will US force Israel to talk and retreat from their settlement expansions and invasion?

Posted by: beancube2010 | March 4, 2011 2:30 AM | Report abuse

If the presence of American troops in Libya, or the presence of American fighter planes over Libya would positively influence the outcome, then there might be an excuse for an American military intervention.
But there is no guarantee or even any indication that the anti Qaddifi forces are any more inclined towards America than the Qaddafi forces are and the Libyan rebels may react even more violently to an American military presence than Qaddafi's fighters would. After all, no one really knows who the rebel leadership is and what it represents.
Thus this is and morally should be a purely Libyan affair, and America would be wise to wait for the outcome to manifest itself, however it turns out.

Posted by: Beniyyar | March 4, 2011 7:44 AM | Report abuse

US Government with Hillary Clinton is just a talk, talk and talk. Obama needs to work on international support thru U.N.
All those countries rising up rigt now are looking at Obama, but he needs help.
Opposition in all those countries could be gathered together and brought to UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY to make a speach and ban the actual dictators, despots, kings, princes, generals, collonels and whatever else they call themselves until they allow democratic elections against themselves.
This may sound complicated, but its easier then starting the war and paying for it another 25 years.
But first things first; GET RID OF HILLARY CLINTON!!!!

Posted by: DigestivePolitics | March 4, 2011 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Beniyyar said:
"Thus this is and morally should be a purely Libyan affair, and America would be wise to wait for the outcome to manifest itself, however it turns out."
Very wise statement, I totally agree. A truly conservative and moral position.

Posted by: mfray | March 4, 2011 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Dear mfray, that was very kind of you, thank you.

Posted by: Beniyyar | March 4, 2011 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Obama's challenged rhetoric and ever more obvious disdain for all things military aside, US Naval deployments in the Med do indicate some serious contingency planning for blocking Qaddafi's command communications (the Barry), and, serious non-weapon assistance (Kearsarge and Ponce)to the opposition.
The Arab League and African Union have the most at stake in prying Qaddafi out, so I wonder what is going on that Obama/Clinton/Gates will not say publicly:

"...Egyptian special forces were yesterday reported to be working with Gen Obaidi's troops in a demonstration of wider Arab backing for the anti-Gaddafi rebellion..."
reported by UK's Daily Telegraph and Mirror yesterday.

Maybe the real question is what help have Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, and Chad asked for to keep Libya from de-stabilizing all of North Africa?

Posted by: K2K2 | March 4, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

You need troops?

"Conscription is the vitality of a nation, the purification of its morality,
and the real foundations of all its habits"
- Napoleon, "Political Aphorisms" 1848

Posted by: shanghai_newswire | March 4, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

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