My Take On Libya


We’re pushing two weeks now in the US involvement in Libya.  I’ve tried to resist from commenting on the situation because I really wanted to make sure my opinion was more my thoughts and feelings rather than a partisan message surrounding Obama.

I’m not going to get into the constitutionality of what took place.  I’m convinced that either:

  1. It IS constitutional
  2. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t

Either way, we’re over there and involved.  For better or for worse.

So, I’ve always been confused as to the qualifier for US involvement of dictators abusing their own citizens.  We straddle that fence and it’s pretty clear we’re doing that here too.  Yes, the actions of Gaddafi are horrible.  Yes they are going to continue and yes they are probably worse than we know.  But certainly this is neither new nor isolated.  The horrors taking place in Yemen are surly as offensive.

With that said, I find there no reason to be upset that we’re in Libya.  I think that when we can we should work to increase the Liberty of a people; of a nation.  Do we need to wage war in place of those people [think Iraq]?  Maybe not.  However, when an organized force of people is acting in reasonable revolt of an oppressive regime, we should act in the interests of those people.

However, I do feel that we should be open and honest about that involvement.  If we are sending assistance to help rebels overthrow their government, then claim that.  If we are sending assistance to simply enact a no fly zone, than admit that as well.  And more importantly, do just that.  Enact a No Fly Zone.

And nothing else.

What we’re doing in Libya is clearly more than just preventing Gaddafi from flying airplanes.  We’re taking out artillery installations.  We bombing tanks.  We targeting targets that have nothing to do with airplanes; flying or not flying.

And that is upsetting.  Further, it damages our standing in the world and marks us a nation that lacks will and vision.  And that is bad bad news.

For that, I DO blame Obama.  He is a man without a shred of leadership experience or know how.  So the fact that he isn’t leading should not be surprising.

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10 comments
  1. Pino,

    Given my numerous posts, I think you know where I stand on this Libyan misadventure. I am a very logical person, who would never dream of attending an anti-war rally (and I am convinced that I never will).

    The whole thing just doesn’t seem to have been well-thought out.

    For instance, Benghazi, the hotbed of the rebellion is also a hotbed for al Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood actually supports our bombing of Qaddafi. So, we are in effect, helping Islamic militants overthrow a secular regime.

    Qaddafi came clean on weapons of mass destruction. Now the North Koreans are proclaiming, “See. This is what happens when you give up your nukcs.”

    Now the Turks are starting their own nuclear program and I’m sure Egypt and Saudi Arabia will follow.

    Obama has completely missed the big picture here. He has blundered into a situtation that will ultimately make the Middle East more unstable.

    Secretary Gates is one of the finest Defense Secretaries the nation has ever had, and he opposed this action (privately, if press accounts are accurate).

    Then there is the complete lack of process. In Iraq, at least George Bush sought Congressional and U.N. approval over a six month period.

    Obama sought and got U.N. approval, but did not even bother to legitimize it in Congress. While I think the President has the prerogative to start wars without Congressional consent, he can not continue them without it.

    If we are going to intervene, intervene in Syria or Iran, where the real enemy is. This whole thing is just stupid. It is ill-conceived, it makes no sense, and it is being prosecuted by what appear to be rank amateurs (because the Pentagon clearly does not appear to be onboard for obvious reasons). At least Iraq was a threat to U.S. interests. Libya, until we bombed it, was not.

    • pino said:

      For instance, Benghazi, the hotbed of the rebellion is also a hotbed for al Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood actually supports our bombing of Qaddafi. So, we are in effect, helping Islamic militants overthrow a secular regime.

      That this is true shouldn’t change the fact that Gaddafi is slaughtering a whoile bunch of people. On the other hand, I can see what’cher sayin’. If we work to over throw one crazy for just a series of other crazies, what’s the point.

      Then there is the complete lack of process. In Iraq, at least George Bush sought Congressional and U.N. approval over a six month period.

      You hit on two important points. One that Obama is just doing it wrong. It’s clear that we want more than to just ground his Air Force. So, say it. Do it. Do it right. And then get out.

      The other point is that Dubya, love him or hate him, did it right. He di go to the UN. He did go to Congress. He did get the approval of folks. And he still got hammered by the Left.

      If we are going to intervene, intervene in Syria or Iran, where the real enemy is.

      And therein lies the danger of my position. It makes our stance on humanitarian issues look silly when we don’t take a consistent stand on humanitarian issues. Or National Security issues.

      It’s a mess. Made messier by an inept leader.

      • As you have said so eloquently in a prior post:

        “Miss George W. Bush yet?”

    • Gates and Obama were equally skeptical of action, Secretary Clinton was the biggest proponent. Ultimately Gates and Obama were persuaded, in part because this offered a way to redefine US willingness to support democracy in a manner that appeared impossible after the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan left us looking weakened and certainly unwilling to ever undergo such a risk again. If it works, this could be a major success. If it fails then dictators will know that they need not fear the US nor the UN.

      Don’t be too afraid of al qaeda. The big story the last ten years is their inability to get the youth in the Arab world to embrace their vision. Without the US to demonize (thanks to the quiet role the US has played), they are likely to be marginalized. Fear of al qaeda should not lead to fear of democracy. Al qaeda is a diminishing force in the Arab world, Islamic extremism is not the threat many make it out to be — they are on the wrong side of history.

  2. I think that actually many of you may end up eating your words, the Libyan intervention could turn out to not only be a success, but undo a lot of harm caused by the failures in Iraq. I go through it more on my own blog today, but essentially Iraq gave dictators breathing room — after all that, no way would the US truly threaten them. But in Libya if the UN can gather to create an international consensus against a dictator, and then use military pressure with the US staying in the background (no chest thumping or taking center stage — our military does the work, so it’s a speak softly carry a big stick approach), then dictators will realize that the world can act against them if they perpetrate harm on their people.

    The key is for this to end quickly. If it does — if Gaddafi can be convinced to leave and peacekeepers are primarily AU and Arab League as a move to democracy driven internally works, then dictators all over the Mideast will realize that they can be pressured. If that works, this could be one of Obama’s finest hours — recasting the US not as a unilateral enforcer of our interpretation of international law, but a power that can craft consensus behind the scenes and quietly support effective action. Ironically, Obama can salvage George H.W. Bush’s 1990-91 vision of what the UN might be able to accomplish.

  3. The key is for this to end quickly. If it does — if Gaddafi can be convinced to leave and peacekeepers are primarily AU and Arab League as a move to democracy driven internally works, then dictators all over the Mideast will realize that they can be pressured.”

    Libya sure puts an/the “Obama Doctrine” to the test, doesn’t it? I agree that the key for this is for it to end quickly, if “end” means that Gaddafi is ousted from power.

    Just reading now about the protests in England. Anyone else seeing some major contrarian investment opportunities here? haha

  4. I doubt it. Benghazi is a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. A victory for them is a defeat for the United States.

    This strategy is simply the most dumbest international security strategy I’ve ever seen. It is perhaps the finest illustration that hope is not a method.

    Where it fundamentally fails is that it has no sense of reality. Qaddafi will not step down because Obama has given him no alternative. The Arab League is already backpeddling and NATO had to get involved because the mission had to expand beyond the UN mandate.

    Meanwhile, a proliferation spiral is now beginning in the Middle East with the Turks announcing that they will likely begin construction of their first nuclear reactor. They, one of our stronger allies in the region, also don’t support their action.

    Also how does making dictators nervous help the Saudis?

    Yeah, let’s unnecessarily stir a hornets nest against someone who fully disclosed WMD and fought against al Qaeda since 1996 so that we can increase instability in Saudi Arabia, which is responsible for 3.5 million barrels per day of spare oil capacity out of the world’s 5 million barrels per
    day total. Do $200 per barrel oil prices really serve US interests?

    This policy may be a liberal wet dream, but it will be a failure in the long run.

  5. I’m not scared of Islamic radicalism or al qaeda. That’s for the people of the region to work out, and the youth aren’t embracing radicalism. I’m not sure why you think Benghazi is a hotbed of radicalism. The leaders of the revolt there are not radicals, nor are most who are active in the rebellion. I don’t see why this would have any impact on proliferation (nor do I think its bad for Turkey to build a nuclear reactor — the NPT embraces nuclear energy for memberstates). I also think the Royal family in Saudi Arabia is akin to a mafia gang who has raped the country for its oil wealth for far too long. Their regime is more repressive than Saddam’s was, we don’t need to be in bed with them (they also tolerate and promote some of the most extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism). I think the region is starting a process of immense transformation as the old dictatorships become obsolete. We should be on the right side of history here — the side that opposes dictatorships and supports democracy.

    Fear of Islamic extremism has been overblown. It’s not winning hearts and minds in the Arab world. It’s real, but that’s an internal conflict between Arabs. Oil prices will be volatile, but that’s not something to fear either. Maybe we shouldn’t be afraid of our principles, maybe fear shouldn’t guide our policy.

    • “I’m not scared of Islamic radicalism or al qaeda.”
      You should be. Perhaps they haven’t killed any of your friends, and left your friends’ children orphans – but they have mine. Because of Iraq, American military forces were able to greatly reduce their numbers, but they remain a threat.

      “I’m not sure why you think Benghazi is a hotbed of radicalism.”

      See the following article from the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8407047/Libyan-rebel-commander-admits-his-fighters-have-al-Qaeda-links.html.

      Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader admits that some of his fighters fought against the United States in Iraq.

      “I also think the Royal family in Saudi Arabia is akin to a mafia gang who has raped the country for its oil wealth for far too long. Their regime is more repressive than Saddam’s was, we don’t need to be in bed with them (they also tolerate and promote some of the most extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism)”

      I agree with you on everything but them being worse than Saddam (Saddam used chemical weapons on his own people after all). However, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Furthermore, from a geopolitical perspective, they have helped keep oil prices stable. Letting the House of Saud fall invites expanded Iranian influence in the region, which directly harms U.S. interests.

      I admire your idealism, but the United States needs to be pragmatic. And putting its oil supplies in jeodardy is anything but.

      “Oil prices will be volatile, but that’s not something to fear either.”

      Really? That’s akin to saying people may starve, but that’s not something to fear. Take a look at what happened in the mid-1990s when North Korea experienced a fuel supply shock when it could no longer import fuel from the Soviet Union. Millions died of starvation.

      You can try and play free and loose with oil, but at some point prices reach a breaking point and economies collapse. If Saudi Arabia went off line tomorrow, the United States would lose access to ~11% of its imported fuel.

      In the short term, oil prices are highly inelastic – demand remains the same when supplies drop. Therefore the market price rises dramatically. I don’t think you truly realize how levered the American economy and food production system are to fossil fuels.

      Taking such a cavalier attitude toward Middle Eastern stability will get the United States into immense trouble very quickly.

      The United States needs to break its oil addiction, but it must do so in increments. A global supply shock will only serve to put every country in the world in an economic tailspin.

      And this hopeful view that America can somehow win the Arab street is sheer folly. We give hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinians each year and they hate us for it.

      “I don’t see why this would have any impact on proliferation”

      We had convinced Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, to avoid starting indigeous nuclear programs, and Libya to disclose and dismantle its program. We had been trying to convince Iran to halt theirs.

      What the Iranians see is that the one country that reversed itself and came clean about its WMD programs is now under attack by the United States. Put yourself in the Iranian position: Would you give up your nuclear program? If you were Turkey, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia and the U.S. was actively intervening against standing regimes, wouldn’t you consider developing nuclear weapons to protect yourself against a fairweather ally? I would.

      Fear isn’t guiding our policy. Our vital interests are. And our vital interests have nothing in common with supporting al-Qaeda affiliated rebels in a civil war.

  6. Quick response: I don’t think al qaeda is winning hearts and minds in the Mideast, and their views do not represent more than a tiny minority of Muslims. History is on the side of modernism. I don’t think the youth are going to embrace a puritanical form of life like in Medina in 630 AD. I think you underestimate the Arab youth, a large percentage are already are much closer to us than they are to al qaeda, even if they dislike our politics after Iraq (Libya might help bring them to our side).

    The newspaper article you point to gives an example of some fighters who fought against the coalition in Iraq also being in Libya, but does not say it’s a hotbed of anything.

    I meant that the Saudis in 2003 were more repressive than Saddam in 2003. Saddam was much worse in the 80s, you’re certainly right about that. I do understand your point about oil, but I think that we can pressure the Saudis to change (I think change is inevitable) without it meaning oil will cut off. I don’t think Libya makes a difference to Iran on its nuclear program — Iran doesn’t fear the US because it thinks the US can’t act after Iraq. If the US is successful in Libya, Iran will have more fear. If the Iranian protests are emboldened by greater change, then the Iranian regime will weaken.

    Bottom line: I think that region is in transition and the old corrupt dictatorships are becoming obsolete. It’s not if change will come, but how it will come. I think letting Gaddafi brutally slaughter hundreds of thousands while the world stands by helpless as a tyrant violates human rights and the international community would do our interests (and our principles) far more harm than good. (Well, I wanted to do a quick response!)

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