A few weeks ago, the United States (and Obama) could have delivered a knock-out punch to the heinous regime of Moammar Gadhafi. A clear-cut victory over a tottering tyrant was within our grasp, an outcome that would have benefited us, the western world in general, the Libyan people in specific, and put America on the right side of history when it actually mattered. Maybe we could have even helped pick the least tainted of Gadhafi’s generals to turn, or install the least odious of the rebels in a temporary government that might not immediately impose a hard-line Islamist state. Such are the limited goals possible under a realistic policy in the middle east.
However, the Obama administration’s case of “the slows” and an insistence on playing “mother may I” with the UN has snatched defeat (or at least stalemate) from the jaws of victory. As Michael Totten put it, “I have a sinking feeling that what we’re seeing right now over the skies of Libya is too little, too late.” By waiting until momentum had shifted back to Gadhafi’s forces, Obama has altered the entire enterprise from one of achieving a quick and decisive victory to one of very possibly ensuring a long, expensive, and indecisive stalemate. People have been comparing it to Bush43′s decision to go into Iraq in 2003. However, to my mind it has the potential to work out more like Bush41 decision not to let Schwarzkopf take Baghdad during the first Gulf War: a decision that could result in a brutal dictator staying in power due to our weak-willed deference to both the status quo antebellum and undemocratic Arab allies, resulting in an ongoing stalemate and an open-ended commitment that will drain our military’s time, money and attention until someone else has to clean up the mess many years down the road.
Liberal Democrat John B. Judis in The New Republic has similar thoughts:
Obama did the absolutely worst thing—he called for Qaddafi’s ouster, but did not do anything about it, and discouraged others from doing so. It’s one thing for Costa Rica to call for the ouster of an African despot. It’s quite another thing for the United States, which is still the major outside power in the region, to do so. Obama’s call for Qaddafi’s ouster encouraged Libyan rebels to push ahead in the hope of American active support, only to face Qaddafi’s mercenary armies.
Some politicians (like Newt Gingrich, who is as unimpressive a Presidential candidate as he was impressive his first two years as Speaker of the House)) just can’t make up their minds on the issue. (And here’s Ace calling him on it.)
The case for using military intervention in Libya is considerably weaker than that Bush43 had when he went into Iraq, thanks to Saddam Hussein’s violation of numerous terms of the agreement Iraq signed upon ending the first Gulf War. While Libya is certainly an outlaw regime, it was not nearly the outlaw (or nearly the threat) Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was, especially after Gadhafi’s agreement to abandon his own WMD programs in the wake of the Gulf War. Still, to say the case is weaker is not to say there’s no case at all. Here then, are the pros and cons on each side of the issue:
The Case For U.S. Military Intervention in Libya
- Moammar Gadhafi is a brutal tyrant who oppresses his own people. Few beyond Gadhafi’s most fanatical supporters in the U.S. (I’m looking at you, Louis Farrakhan) dispute this. For more details of just what Gadhafi has done to Libya, I give you Michael Totten’s account of his trip there.
- Gadhafi-trained terrorists were behind the Berlin disco bombing in 1986, killing three people (including two U.S. servicemen), injuring 230 others, and prompting President Reagan to launch an air strike in retaliation.
- Moammar Gadhafi is an active supporter of Islamic terrorism against Western civilians. While Gadhafi’s support of terrorism waned somewhat following his agreement to give up his nuclear program, they never ended entirely. Libyan trained terrorists have been active throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
- Many of our allies were in favor of this intervention. There is much to be said for giving a hand to our military allies when asked. Given that supporting the liberation in Iraq probably (eventually) cost Tony Blair his job as PM, it’s only fair that we give a respectful hearing to David Cameron when he comes asking for help. (Also, let’s be fair and give credit where credit is due: Obama didn’t forget Poland.)
- The far left is against it. Among those outright opposed or expressing reservations are Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Walters and Shelia Jackson Lee, Jesse Jackson, and the left’s favorite useful idiot, Cindy Sheehan. (Let’s give Sheehan credit for consistency, as she’s been pretty vocal about the failure of the rest of the Democratic Party to join her in Happy Pacifist LaLa Land.) Given that lot’s record of being constantly wrong about almost everything, maybe Obama made the right call about getting involved. Then again, a stopped watch is still right twice a day, and I’m sure the jolly pinkos at The Nation would be solidly against invading Canada or Japan.
- If not now, when? Gadhafi was never going to be in a weaker position than having an active, popular revolt going on against him.
- Our intervention was approved by the UN. I put this one last because the UN is essentially pretty worthless.
The Case Against U.S. Military Intervention in Libya
- Gadhafi’s Libya was not a threat to the United States. Well, before we started bombing him, anyhow. By his standards, Gadhafi was playing nice with the U.S. the last several years.
- There were much nastier regimes and bigger threats to American interests in the region. Iran and Syria are both bigger threats and more hostile to U.S. interests than Libya was. Hamasistan in Gaza and Hezbollia in Lebanon are both much bigger threats to peace and regional stability. Saudi Arabia continues to play its double-game of professions of public support for the U.S. while undermining us by funding Wahabbist radical Islam around the world. All are more worrisome and deserving of revolution than Libya.
- There are regimes who treat their people much more brutally than Gadhafi was treating his. North Korea and Sudan both come to mind.
- Obama did not obtain permission from Congress before sending U.S. troops into combat. I do not believe that the War Powers Resolution is constitutional, but when committing troops to a military action that is not required by an immediate threat to U.S. citizens (Libya is at least ten times a “war of choice rather than necessity” than Iraq was), it’s probably a good idea to seek Congressional approval. Obama failed to do this.
- Despite being accused of “going it alone,” Bush had twice as many coalition partners going into Iraq than Obama had gone into Libya. Including such vital U.S. allies as Australia, Japan and South Korea, missing from Obama’s coalition. (To be fair, the absence of Turkey is largely for reasons beyond Obama’s control.)
- Screw France. Given France’s failure to support us in Iraq, there’s no particular reason we should be doing their job for them in Libya (notwithstanding the fact that Nicolas Sarkozy is a vast improvement on Jacques Chirac).
- Some of the biggest idiots among congressional Democrats, people whose instinct is almost unerringly in its wrongheadedness, like John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Harry Reid are backing Obama’s war in Libya. So the insane wing of the Democratic Party is against the war, while the corrupt wing is for it. No wonder Republicans feel so conflicted.
- The Libyan rebels may be a small and poorly armed force of less than 1,000. Does it actually help to support the slightly-less-evil side in a civil war when they end up getting crushed anyway?
- Some of the people against Gadhafi are terrorist scumbags. Like the Islamic Emirate of Barqa or Muslim brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. (Other observers have asserted that there is little evidence of Al Qaeda support of the rebels in Libya, and in Benghazi, Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, interviewed by Michael Totten, says that the ones she has met so far “are mainly young, educated, middle class, urban people with a powerful wish for democracy.”)
- There’s a good chance that, even if they’re not the driving force in the rebellion, Jihadists forces may come out on top in a post-Gadhafi power struggle. In the Middle East, as in most non-Democratic societies, power comes from the muzzle of a gun, and Jihadests tends to be best armed and organized groups, making them prime candidates to fill any power vacuum, including the one in Libya.
- Obama’s Libyan adventure is incompatible with the limited defensive goals of a Constitutional Republic. You know, as opposed to every other U.S. use of military force since (at least) World War II. Look, this essay is already long enough without rehashing the forward defense vs. Fortress America, Internationalism vs. Isolationism, Ron Paul vs. George W. Bush debate. That ship has sailed. But I include the point for the sake of completeness.
Ultimately, a decision to go to war is a lot more complex than a list of pros and cons can capture. I find myself coming down, ever-so-slightly and tentatively, on the side of taking Gadhafi out, based mainly on his past involvement in killing Americans, and by the classic Texas “he needed killin’” principle. But this applies only if the rebels actually win and kill Gadhafi. If not, Obama’s Libyan intervention will be an ill-advised failure, doubly-so if we’re still enforcing a no-fly zone (ala Iraq 1992-2003) a year from now. As Micheal Kinsley put it:
If Kadafi is still in power a year from now, even if he is obeying the no-fly rules, it will be regarded worldwide as more evidence of America’s decline as a great power and regarded in America as evidence that Democrats in general and Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in particular are not ready to play foreign policy with the big children.
Nor does it convince us that Hillary Clinton is ready to sit at the big kid’s table when she blathers on about Bashar Assad being a reformer.
Thomas Sowell says that Obama’s Libya policy is incoherent (as indeed it is).
Even more damning is Steven Metz’s piece in The New Republic, mainly because it’s a defense (or at least notes toward a defense) of Obama’s policy from a pro-Obama publication:
Obama’s Libya strategy is designed to avoid the most undesirable outcomes rather than optimize the chances of a desired outcome, to do something without “owning” the conflict, to maintain maximum flexibility as the situation evolves, and to do all of this in the face of powerful constraints.
That’s right, Obama isn’t playing to win in Libya, he’s playing not to lose. And playing not to lose is a good way to get your ass handed to you on a plate. (Just ask Guy Lewis how well that strategy worked when the Hakeem Olajuwon/Clyde Drexler-led Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars played the NC State Wolfpack for the NCAA national championship in 1983.) Say what you want about Bush43′s war in Iraq, but he was playing to win, which is why neither Saddam Hussein nor his kin are still around to bedevil the world. Obama’s playing not to lose, while Gadhafi is playing not to die. Who do you think is going to be more motivated? As Mark Steyn notes:
President Obama’s position, insofar as one can pin it down, seems to be that he’s not in favor of Qaddafi remaining in power but he isn’t necessarily going to do anything to remove him therefrom. According to NBC, Qaddafi was said to be down in the dumps about his prospects until he saw Obama’s speech, after which he concluded the guy wasn’t serious about getting rid of him, and he perked up. He’s certainly not planning on going anywhere. There is an old rule of war that one should always offer an enemy an escape route. Instead, David Cameron, the British prime minister, demanded that Qaddafi be put on trial. So the Colonel is unlikely to trust any offers of exile, and has nothing to lose by staying to the bitter end and killing as many people as possible.
Says Jed Babbin:
This is mission creep, Obama style. And no one knows where it will lead because the president apparently intends to go much farther than our NATO allies have agreed, and to continue much longer than they will be able to help.
Here’s still more from Mark Steyn. He also had this to say:
With his usual unerring instinct, Barack Obama has chosen to back the one Arab liberation movement who can’t get rid of the local strongman even when you lend them every functioning Nato air force…I guess it all comes down to how serious President Sarkozy is about knocking off Gaddafi. If he’s not, then Libya will be yet another in America’s six-decade-long pantheon of unwon wars…A cynic might almost think the point of the exercise was to demonstrate to the world the superpower’s impotence
Despite all this, could our intervention in Libya end up creating a modern, functioning democracy? Well, it’s possible, but deeply, deeply unlikely. Then again, even more deeply unlikely things have come to pass in world politics. Soviet hardliners launching an unsuccessful coup that collapsed after a couple of days with only three people dead and inadvertently hastening the demise of the Soviet Union was deeply unlikely. Asa K. Jennings, an American YMCA director saving the lives of the 350,000 people from certain death by declaring himself head the the U.S. relief effort during the Great Fire of Smyrna, shaming the Greek government into giving him use of the Greek fleet, and convincing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to let him rescue Christians and Jews from the invested city, was a deeply, deeply unlikely outcome. (Someone could make a great film about Jenning’s life.) So it’s possible that Obama’s intervention in Libya might have an optimal outcome in the same way that betting 00 on roulette can earn you a pile of money…but it’s not something you’d be willing to stake your fortune on.