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If his administration is against intervention—even if the French and Brits are for it—then he should clearly and forcefully tell the American people why. There are plenty of reasons to stay out: Libya is not in America’s strategic interest; this is a regional problem best handled by Mediterranean or African nations; U.S. troops are engaged in major combat and peacekeeping operations elsewhere; Libya is not worth American blood and treasure; Libya could become like Somalia in the 1990s; etc.
If, on the other hand, his administration is for intervention—even if the Chinese and Russians are against it—then he should clearly and forcefully tell the American people why. Again, there are legitimate reasons to get in: America plays a special role in the world; Khadafy is a murderous thug who’s forfeited his right to govern; the Libyan people are asking for help; a post-Khadafy government is in America’s interest; this is an opportunity to strike a blow for pro-freedom movements; Libya could become like Bosnia in the 1990s; etc.
If the president thinks a no-fly-zone is a good idea, then tell the world that it will clear the skies and tilt the battlefield balance for regime opponents on the ground, that it will give the freedom-fighters a sense of hope.
If he thinks it’s a bad idea, then remind the world that no-fly zones didn’t save lives in Bosnia, that they cost billions in Iraq and put at risk thousands of American pilots, that they lay the groundwork for deeper intervention, that they invite the risk of hostage situations and PR nightmares.
If he thinks it’s time for Khadafy to go, then say it boldly and clearly. That’s what the younger Bush did vis-à-vis the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. That’s what Clinton did vis-à-vis Slobodan Milosevic. That’s what the elder Bush did vis-à-vis Manuel Noriega.
If, on the other hand, he thinks Khadafy has a kind of Westphalian right to put down an internal rebellion, then declare an Obama Doctrine saying America supports the notion that a country’s government must be determined internally, and as such, America won’t intervene in civil wars.
But the president hasn’t said any of this.
Instead of unequivocally calling for Khadafy’s ouster, he says he is in “consultation with the international community to try to achieve the goal of Mr. Khadafy being removed from power…We’re going to take a wide range of actions to try to bring about that outcome…and work with the international community to try to achieve that.”
Not exactly “Tear down this wall.”
Instead of laying out the rationale for intervention or non-intervention, he tells us he’s asked NATO to consider “24-hour surveillance so that we can monitor the situation on the ground and react rapidly if conditions deteriorated…further efforts with respect to an arms embargo… humanitarian aid…potential military options including a no-fly zone.” He also assures us he’s “in discussion with both Arab countries as well as African countries to gauge their support for such an action.” Plus, he has decided to “assign a representative whose specific job is to interact with the opposition and determine ways that we can further help them,” “sent a clear warning to the Khadafy government that they will be held accountable” and delivered “a clear message to those around Khadafy that the world is watching and we’re paying attention, and that there have been referrals to the International Criminal Court.”
Nothing inspires freedom-fighters like discussions with the Arab League, and nothing makes dictators think twice like referrals to the ICC.
Indeed, one is left to wonder if the president’s advisors have considered the message his words convey to the world: monitor, try, discussion, gauge, assign, watching, referral, organize, conversation. These are synonymous with passive.
The president needs to take his own advice, and remember that the world is watching—and listening.
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.
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