Symposium: The Mismanaged War Against Libya

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Ledeen: A week ago I wrote a little blog wondering what Obama might do to prevent everyone from concluding he’s a wimp. I confessed that this thought worried me quite a bit, as it had in the 1970s when Carter’s name became inseparably tied to “wimp.”  Every author falls in love with his own words, but I hope to be forgiven for saying that I was right to worry.

I quite agree with both Robert Spencer and General Pacepa, both of whom remind us of my grandmother’s famous bit of folk wisdom, “things are never so bad that they can’t get worse.”  Indeed, both of them raise the truly paradoxical and terrible possibility that we may “win” in Libya, only to find that we have made things worse: worse for American interests, worse for the Libyan people, worse for the whole region, which hardly needs to get even worse.

But that’s not my major concern.  What gets my juices flowing is the ongoing failure to see the Middle Eastern cauldron in full context, and that we are bringing American power to bear on Qadaffi, but not on the tyrants in Tehran.  As almost everyone with a keyboard has said, we don’t have a major national interest at stake in Libya, but Iran is our main enemy, and is killing Americans every day.  So if you want to act decisively in the Middle East, you should be working for regime change in Iran; Libya is a sideshow.

So it’s the wrong war in the wrong place.

That said, I have a lot of sympathy for the view (often attributed to Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton) that America should support citizens fighting for freedom against tyrants.  But that does not mean a suspension of strategic judgment, and a failure to recognize which of those fights is most important.

Bits and pieces:  I never liked the no-fly-zone idea, and in fact several weeks ago I said about Libya what I had said years before about Darfur:  bomb the airforce, destroy the planes of the regime.  That takes a few minutes.  Then, if you decide you want to support the rebels, or some of them, go ahead.  At least you’ve given them a respite from the slaughter.

More:  It’s not all bad, you know.  This gives hope to the “rebels” we should be supporting–the ones in Syria and Iran.  Maybe one of the three Administration Valkyries will call for political support for the dissidents in those two unhappy lands.  Obama’s video to the Iranians marks a significant change in rhetoric, he’s abandoned all that sweet talk about “outstretched hands” and told the young Iranians on the streets that “I’m with you.”  I don’t quite believe it, but he may now find it much more difficult to appease Tehran.  Time will tell.

As you see, I keep coming back to the big context, because that’s the one that really matters.  We’re in a big war, the Libya thing is a skirmish.

Phares: We all agree that Colonel Gaddafi is a dictator, that he supported terrorism against the U.S. and France, was responsible for the tragedy of PanAm 103, that he funded, armed and trained radicals in many African countries such as in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Haute Volta, and in a few Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon. We all are aware that his regime oppressed his people and tortured and jailed his opponents for four decades. I observed Gaddafi ruling Libya unchecked during and after the Cold War before and after 9/11 and he was received by liberal democracies as a respectable leader.

My first question is: Why has the West been silent so long and why is it so late in taking action against this dictator? Of course it had to do with oil. Western elites were morally and politically encouraging him by buying his oil and empowering him with endless cash as Libyan dissidents were dying in jails.

Now, as missiles are crushing Gaddafi’s air defense systems and tanks, Western governments should be invited for serious self-criticism for having enabled this regime to last that long. Squeezing or even defeating Gaddafi should prompt a comprehensive review of past decades of Western policies towards this regime and its abuses of human rights. The military operation should not end with the departure of Gaddafi from power. It must open the door for an examination of US and European policies that have aligned themselves with Petrodollars interests for over half a century. Such self-criticism was supposed to start with the removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, but unfortunately, it hasn’t taken place yet, precisely because of the mega-influence inside the West and the United States by powerful lobbies representing the interests of OPEC, the Arab League and the OIC.

Besides, questions should be raised about the Arab League and OIC endorsement of an action against Gaddafi’s regime. Where were they for decades, when the Libyan dictator used to seize the microphone on their platforms and blast the very democracies they implored to act against him? These organizations catered to the interest of regimes they now are calling for sanctions against. Mr. Amr Moussa, the current secretary general of the Arab League, rises against Gaddafi after having supported him for years, while the latter was oppressing his own people.

In my book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, I call all these regimes and organizations a “brotherhood against democracy.” They have supported each other against democratic movements and minorities everywhere in the region. From Sudan to Lebanon, from Iraq to Libya, the regional organizations were at the service of these regimes, not of the people. As these revolts are ongoing, these inter-regimes’ organizations must be criticized and eventually reformed. Last year, the Arab League and OIC were endorsing Libya’s role in the UN Council on Human Rights. Egypt, Tunisia and Libya’s representatives at the Geneva UN body were shutting up the voices of Libyan dissidents just a few months ago. Now that the uprisings have crumbled the regimes in Cairo and Tunisia, and Tripoli’s ruler is cornered, the negative impact these inter-regime organizations have on dissidents and human rights on international levels must be exposed and their future representation comprehensively reformed.

I do agree with Mr. Spencer that many jihadists have been recruited from Libya, and particularly from its eastern provinces. I also agree with General Pacepa that Western policies towards Gaddafi’s regime were incoherent. And I certainly agree with Dr. Ledeen that US policy should support true democratic forces and uprisings in the region from Iran to the Arab world.

In short I would have advised for a different set of US global strategies in the Middle East. We should have backed the Iranian Green Revolution in 2009, the Cedars Revolution as it struggles against Hezbollah, and Darfur in its liberation drive against the Jihadist regime in Khartoum. In Egypt, we should have clearly sided with the secular youth and Copts, as they asked for a new constitution. In Iraq, we should have been clear in supporting reformist and secular forces.

As far as Libya is concerned, removing Gaddafi is not the question. That should have been done years ago on the grounds of abuse of human rights. The question is who will come next? Clearly, the agenda of the Benghazi leadership is not clear. We know there is a layer of former bureaucrats, diplomats, intellectuals and military dissidents with whom partnership is possible and should be encouraged. But there is another layer below the surface which is made of Islamists, Salafists and in some cases Jihadists.

From a simple observation of the latter’s narrative on al Jazeera, one major component of the opposition is an Islamist force aiming at taking over in Tripoli. Hence, Washington must partner with the secular-democrats and warn that it won’t endorse replacing Gaddafi’s Jamahiriyya with a Jihadi emirate. Why aren’t the most liberal Libyan dissidents received in Washington and made visible? As Mr. Spencer said, the US and NATO military has been tasked to open the highways to Tripoli for the opposition, but we need to insure that on that highway we won’t see the democracy groups eliminated by the next authoritarians.

FP: Walid Phares, Mihai Pacepa, Michael Ledeen and Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.


[i] Joseph A. Harris, “Sarko’s War,” The American Spectator, March 21, 2011.

[ii] Idem.

[iii] Andrew G. Bostom, “Let Muslim Anti-Terrosit States Police Libya,” Human Events, March 21, 2011.

[iv] “Obama Gave $400,000 To Libyan Charities Run By Gaddafi’s Children,”, February 24, 2011.

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  • crackerjack

    This has to be the most stupid campainge in modern military history.
    Leading man Sarkozy, Gadaffis former buddie, is in it for his upcoming elections. Obama is in it to play world leader an not look like a whimp. NATO doesn't know if it is in it right now, but discussions are ongoing. Rumania is sending a ship! Nobody in Denmark cares a hoot, but there in it anyway. The Arab-Leauge, who legitimized it, were carefull to leave their air forces grounded and immediately critizise "civilian" casualties. Solely the Germans smelt rat, and politely refrained.

    Nobody knows who these "rebels" are or what they stand for. What we do know is that most of their supposed leaders, like Abdul Jalil, served under Gadaffi, Jalil as justice minister. ( LOL). We also know that Al Quaida has repeatedly called for support of these rebels and the removal of Gadaffi, who over the past few years has recieved extensive Western support as a "partner" in the "Worldwide War against Terror".

    So here we have yet another Western lunatic campainge, set to end in utter and compleat desaster.

  • al Kidya

    Now Obama is soft-peddling his way out of the war and leaving it in the hands of the French and British by the looks of things.

    There will be no winnders in this conflict.
    I equate this to a North African tribal war and, sad to say, just as other African tribal wars have taken millions of lives in the past, this tribal war will do the same. It is the nature of the beast.
    It almost appears the only reason for the UN to suddenly approve a no-fly zone over Libya would be based on the fact that Libya is an oil-rich country rather than basing it on human rights abuses. If the latter be the case then why didn't the UN make an effort to help poor African countries that tried to overthrow their countries tyrants.
    This operation could turn into a long and protracted war with no end in sight.

    I don't believe in entering any Islamic country and fighting their wars. It is akin to trying to break up two fighting dogs; one of the dogs or both can suddenly, and without warning, turn on you. Let them fight it out and simply ensure our defenses are in the best of shape. That defense includes the state of Israel.

    • franz von fear

      …..compared to Western, Christian wars , African tribal wars would seen negligible . But every beast has its nature, I guess.

      By the way…………When did Israel become part of "our" defense? As far as I know, Israel rejected the West when it bombed the Britisch out of their mandate. I would seem strange that Western defense now entails supporting Israeli land conflicts with its neighbours.

      • MixMChess

        If Israel were not a secure military ally, the US would have to deploy its own troops to the Middle East to ensure the stability of the region: "U.S. military analysts estimate that the U.S. would have to spend the equivalent of $150 billion a year in the Middle East to maintain a force equivalent to Israel's."

        • franz von fear

          The US does deploy its own troops in the Midd-East. In Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Katar, Jemen, Bahrein..etc. These nations have also participated in US military operations such as Destert Storm and Iraqi Freedom and stood in the front line of combat. Due to Israel's political stance in the Midd-East, Israel's military assets are of absolutly no benefit to the United States. Israeli miltary participated in neither Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, the intervention in Afghanistan nor in the ongoing intervention over Libya.

          • MixMChess

            What? Israel provides strategic and military aid to the U.S. Its "navy and air force are the major deterrent forces in the eastern Mediterranean. Israel effectively secures NATO's southeastern flank, without having a single American soldier stationed in its territory. Still, the superb military installations, the air and sea lift capabilities, the equipment and food storage capacity, and the trained manpower to maintain and repair sophisticated U.S. equipment are instantly at hand in Israel. It is the only country in the area that makes itself available to the United States, in any contingency."

            As Global Security reports, "Israeli technological know-how has made it an equal partner in research and development of defensive military strategies… [Israeli firms developed] the Amos and Ofeq satellites and the world's first operational anti-missile missile system, the Arrow, unmanned air vehicles (UAV or pilotless aircraft) systems, including the Hunter….Python and Popeye "smart" airborne missiles…passive armor, naval decoys, …ceramic armor, air-breathing propulsion, and air-to-air, air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles."

            A primary goal of the US foreign is to support friendly nations and to foster democracy and human rights. Israel is one of the only nations in the middle east that has lived up to these ideals. It is one of the few (and probably only "true") democracies in the Middle East.

          • franz von fear

            Israel is not in NATO. NATO's South-East flak is secured by Turkey. Israel's first and last participation in a wester Midd-East conflicht was during the ill fated Suez Crisis. All subsequent US and Western military conflicts in the Midd-East occured in the publicly stated and diplomatically explicitly emphasized absence of any Israeli military participation whatsoever.

      • MixMChess

        Zionists only directed political violence at the British due to the strict immigration rules the British had established (which prevented millions of Jews from from finding sanctuary in Israel during the Holocaust, and instead perishing at the hands of the Nazis). In fact, the King David bombing was only after British troops invaded the Jewish Agency confiscating large quantities of documents. At about the same time, more than 2,500 Jews were arrested.

        Besides, long BEFORE the Jews directed any animosity at the British, the Palestinians had been attacking and sabotaging them in a clear pattern of TERRORISM.

        During the 1936-39 Arab Revolt, "British patrols were cut down by snipers, the new [British] airport at Lydda was burned, troop trains were derailed, and the oil line from Mosul to Haifa was badly damaged. As the killings and sabotage increased, so did British reprisals….From July to November 1938…perhaps 16,000 local and imported guerillas were engaged in the insurrection, and they succeeded almost completely in paralyzing civil authority outside the nation's larger cities and in the Jewish agricultural areas. All interurban transportation was prohibited at night, as Arab infiltrators laid mines and explosives along roads and highways."

        In fact, in a 1936 the British prepared the, "Report by His Majesty's Government to the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-jordan," which stated the following: "There have been widespread acts of murder and other outrages by [Arab] gangs of armed terrorists. Apart from attacks in which British soldiers, airmen and police as well as many Arabs and Jews have lost their lives, the activities of these armed gangs have included repeated attempts to disorganize the means of communication, cutting of telegraph and telephone wires, derailing of trains, and attempts to prevent roads from being used by traffic. Considerable material damage has been done seriously affecting the economic life of the country and several attempts have been made to damage and set fire to the oil pipe-line between Haifa and `Iraq."

        • franz von fear

          Your missing the point here. Arabs and Zionists both rejected British, Western influence and control in the region. Israel, erected on this stance, can now hardly claim to be sole champion of Westen influence and inforcer of Western control.

          • MixMChess

            Wrong, Zionists never rejected Western influence. In fact, Israel adopted a parliamentary system similar to Britain. Israel only rejected the British as a colonial occupying power (which undoubtedly they were).

            The Arabs rejected both the British and Western influence completely. During the cold war they came under Soviet and Marxist influence. The Baath parties in Syria and Iraq were influenced by the Soviets (and Nazis). Israel on the other hand quickly became an ally of the US, France and Britain in addition to other Western nations.

  • tim heekin

    bin laden plan is working perfectly. His goal was to hurt the US, get the US to attack and them bleed it. Continue the assault on the Little satan, Israel, and remove the dictators of the Middle East in order to make room for the Caliphate. Again, his plan is working perfectly. He could not have predicted the advent of Obama but this blessing is obviously the work of Allah to provide the believers with such fortuitous "leader" of the Great Satan. If bin laden is alive he shouldn't need any viagra for the forseeable future as is blood is certainly up.

  • USMCSniper

    This symposium, although interesting, failed to convince me that this unconstitutional and very costly war with Libya is required because of actual or eminent danger to the United States, or is in the strategic interests of the United States. Just who are these so-called civilians we are allegly protecting? All I see a whole lot of rebels carrying weapons anywhere from AK-47s to MANPADs along with light artillery.

  • P. Dennis

    Two words that always seem totally irrelevant to any Islamic society or Muslim culture are "freedom" and "democracy." We in the West keep insisting on grafting these foreign concepts onto those who only believe in Islam, i.e. "submission."

    Muslim scholars expand it to "submission to its rules includes leaving what does not concern him, meaning that which is not connected with what is important to one, be it in word or deed. The matters that concern a person are those connected with necessities of life in gaining a livelihood and having a safe return in the afterlife. "

    Where can "freedom" and "democracy" fit in to that philosophy? It never has, and never will. We're wasting time and energy. The essence of their philosophy is closer to the exact opposite of "freedom," as history has proven. If they truly believed in democracy or freedom, they would love and probably worship the Jews above all else. They know their bible and history, and we know ours, for example:

  • umustbkidding

    Exactly what sane person comits his country to war and goes on vacation in the same week?

    What is it that this man has to do in order for us to throw him out? Is there nothing? Are we as Americans so denuded that we have zero gumption left? This is a reason for a anti war demonstration.