Liddick: U.S. and Libya deja vu
Let’s see now … Mixed messages about the mission? Check. UN Security Council mandate? Check. “Coalition of the Willing?” Check. Inevitability of “mission creep?” Check. Assurances that the intervention will be virtually cost-free in terms of “boots on the ground?” Check.
Does the phrase “Dejà vu all over again” occur to anyone?
Or is the feeling that we’ve seen this all before obscured by the lack of Congressional approval, the glaring inconsistencies in our policy with respect to other regimes in the region and the sinking feeling that the whole affair has been slapped together with very little thought as to the endgame?
However one looks at it, President Obama’s apparently offhand attack on Libya raises serious issues which, taken together, creates profound disquiet about how much this course of action has been thought through. And about the eventual effect it will have on the region, and on our relationship with it.
Yes, our attack has been justified as a first step in establishing a UN-sanctioned “no-fly” zone in Libya to protect those elements in revolt against the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. The zone had been called for by the Arab League, and is said to be necessary to prevent depredations by the Colonel’s regime on its citizens. Both the Pentagon and NATO officials indicated that the French and British are leading the charge.
But as of Sunday afternoon, almost all of the military activity has been carried out by the United States; cruise missile strikes, bombing runs, surveillance, command and control – these are overwhelmingly ours. French and British participation has been secondary. The Arab League, who originally requested the zone, might be represented by Qatar. Later.
The administration might think assertions that this is someone else’s show will be swallowed in the Arab world, but this necessarily requires the belief that Arabs are too stupid to draw breath. This action has “Made in USA” stamped on it in letters that can be read from here. Which means we have a vested interest in getting things right. And that’s a problem.
The president assures us there will be no American ground forces used in this outing. But this is also the man whose administration has been insisting for three weeks that Col. Ghadafi must go, and “the sooner, the better.” The problem is, the Colonel has nowhere to go; if he leaves Libya, he knows the next stop will very likely be the International Court of Justice in the Hague, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor. Not a particularly appealing prospect, so he will probably prefer to remain in place as the King of Tunis, one side of an ongoing civil/tribal war which will turn a sizeable piece of North African real estate into a working definition of chaos. Until he’s prized out by force, which will require …
You guessed it: “Boots on the ground.” Someone has either not been thinking clearly about the most probable outcome here, or has simply decided not to be forthright about it. Take your choice.
There is also the confusion that our Libya policy – whichever permutation one chooses – creates with respect to other states in turmoil in the Middle East.
In Yemen, 40-plus peaceful demonstrators were shot by snipers on Friday last. It wasn’t the first time the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has done this. Our reaction? To give our erstwhile ally in Sana’a a strict talking-to about how unacceptable it is to use live ammunition as a tool of crowd control.
In Bahrain, Shiite protesters have also been shot while demonstrating; opposition leaders have been jailed and house-to-house dragnets have reportedly resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of “disappearances.” Troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Arab Gulf states are involved in these activities. The result? More nattering about “restraint.”
The most probable conclusion to draw from a comparison of these situations? That our response to “freedom-seeking” Arab demonstrators and revolutionaries is based on a careful calculation about which of their targeted thugocracies are still controlled by our kind of thugs.
There’s nothing wrong with this sort of realpolitik; as foreign policies go, it’s one of the most common types. But when we pretend altruism while engaging in activities that would make Machiavelli proud, we don’t do ourselves any favors with our more clearsighted international partners. And when our administration promises results that are manifestly not achievable given the constraints it imposes, doubt about our truthfulness – or our ability to analyze a situation clearly – is the inevitable result. Neither of which is helpful, either in the present situation or for the foreseeable future.
So let’s start making sense. Quick.
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