There is no doubt that Qaddafi is a ruthless, megalomaniacal dictator who will commit genocide on his own citizens without any qualms. In the past he has been a key player in supporting international terrorism, Jihadists who came to Iraq to fight the US, and insurgent anti-US movements. However the President's advisors should point out, in response to strong US pressure in the last decade we have muted that support, he's given up his nuclear weapons, and focused internally. Within the Administration there is a debate about whether US interests would be better served by his removal or allowing him to remain in power as a weakened autocrat.
We have no reason to believe that, like Egypt and Tunisia, the rebels here are motivated by democratic aspirations. Instead, they are conservative, strong Islamists with loyalty to their own tribes. Removing Qaddafi would require deep US intervention including ground forces to bring some semblance of stability to this important oil exporting nation. Given Libya’s lack of institutions, its tribal culture, and its small middle class, some form of international peace keeping force would be necessary. The President's advisors are concerned that the only well organized force in this region are radical Islamist groups who will be poised to take advantage of the chaos of transition. Many pundits will proclaim the necessity of removing Qaddafi and how simple it would be. In addition, they will paint a rosy picture of a post-Qaddafi Libya that would be a democratic beacon in this troubled region. But I'm sorry, their rosy picture is far from reality.
As an American citizen it appears that protecting our allies' (including Israel and Saudi Arabia) and securing the Gulf's energy resources loom large as reasons for our continued commitment to these conflicts. The President had probably thought through this as a matter of strategy when he prepared to take office. His approach - taking pragmatic steps to reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies, and trying to coerce Israel into coming to the table with Hamas - bore all the fresh optimism and smug intelligence of a college term paper. As always though, the map differs from the territory. Or, to put it in the more blunt terms of boxer Mike Tyson, "everybody's got a plan 'til they get hit."
My recent harshness about the President comes as a bit of an “own goal.” We did not have to get involved – an Arab dictator is oppressing his people…that is hardly news, or, unless our interests are directly involved, not our issue. Also, given the perilous state of our finances and our already full military plate, it is simply not prudent to indulge in superfluous actions. But, there I go again…once I get started on any logic train thinking about this I find myself banging the keyboard and crying out loud in frustration.
What is obvious is that our president is making all of this up as he goes along, and is clearly not listening to Secretary Gates. Having been talked into easing the consciences of Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, President Obama is now dealing with the fallout. Having made a rash proclamation that Gadhaffi must go, he is being pulled to inevitable conclusions: an American president always seems bound to back his statements; if he’s protecting the Libyan people from Gadhaffi, the only real solution is regime change; if the rebels can’t do it, then he’s got to do it. This ‘doubling down’ effect is obvious in the new debate about arming the rebels. Arming rebels we don’t know or understand, but who we know have an al Qaeda component is insane. But, this whole episode is borderline ludicrous. With the basics of the strategy so awful, I find it hard not to be very, very critical.
I don’t see how this was handled “well,” nor do I see Egypt as being in the ‘well done’ category. The long-term implications of undermining an ally will not be lost on this region: not by the Arabs and not by the Israelis. He now has an established track record as an unreliable partner. It’s already bit us in Bahrain . And, if we’re looking for places ancillary to our interests to ‘do good’, how about Ivory Coast, where a brutal dictator is currently engaged in killing his people. I am also increasingly angry about the sheer mendacity on display: “kinetic military action”; “we won’t be involved on the ground” (when we have CIA operatives there now); “humanitarian mission” when we’ve moved in A-10s and AC-130s to fly close support for the rebels. And, please, please don’t forget the abuse of the War Powers Act (to say nothing of Congress’ sole discretion to authorize military action) as we were not threatened with imminent attack, and his ‘notification’ efforts were perfunctory in the extreme. Waste, and sheer, utter, unmitigated incompetence always disappoint me. When it involves the treasure of the nation, and potentially the lives of our servicemen, it is unconscionable. Sorry, but this just boils my blood.