What was once Obama’s and his supporters’ rallying cry may now be a thing of the past. President Barack Obama, who held in contempt his Republican predecessor’s unilateral approach to difficult international situations, apparently is not above employing Bush’s unilateralism doctrine when it suits him.
Despite the arms embargo on Libya imposed by the United Nations (UN) with America’s approval, in the British newspaper The Independent on Monday Middle Eastern correspondent Robert Fisk reported the Obama administration has asked Saudi Arabia to secretly provide the outgunned rebels in eastern Libya with weapons to fight Muammar Gaddafi’s well-armed forces. Anti-tank armaments and mortars to combat Gaddafi’s armour, Fisk writes, are a priority. The Saudi king, however, has so far not replied to the “highly classified” request.
“[T]he Saudis remain the only US Arab ally strategically placed and capable of furnishing weapons to the guerrillas of Libya,” Fisk writes. “Supplies could reach Benghazi within 48 hours but they would need to be delivered to air bases in Libya or to Benghazi airport[.]”
This back door approach to helping the Libyan rebels, however, involves more than just a simple request for assistance from one friend to another. Expanding on the deal, which has the stench of an Iran-Contra scandal about it, Fisk states the weapons sent to the rebels would come from the United States. The Saudis would also pay for them, which “would allow Washington to disclaim any military involvement in the supply chain[.]” Besides deniability, like in the Iran-Contra affair, there would also be no accounting for the weapons deal before a Congressional committee.
The fact Barack Obama is dipping into Ronald Reagan’s playbook to help a rebel movement strongly indicates that things are not going well concerning the no-fly zone the White House and NATO countries want to establish over Libya. Due to his multilateral approach to international issues, Obama and his leftist and liberal allies appear to have boxed themselves into a corner. Disdaining George Bush’s unilateralism doctrine, they pledged they would only act in the international arena with the consent of international bodies like the UN. The problem they naively did not foresee is that they would one day find themselves not on the same page as the organizations they so highly esteem.
And that day seems to have arrived. While the Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on Libya, it appears doubtful it will sanction the no-fly zone. The problem is Russia and China, both permanent Council members possessing veto powers. Although they voted for the arms sanctions, the two countries are known for their anti-interventionist stance. China especially has a record of voting against international intervention in other states’ affairs.
Showing even less respect for Obama’s aims concerning Libya and making his effort to establish a no-fly zone more difficult are India, Brazil and South Africa. The foreign ministers from the three countries met in India this week, after which they issued a communiqué on Tuesday, calling for a no-fly zone only to be “contemplated in full compliance with the UN Charter and within the Security Council of the United Nations.” These three countries are currently non-permanent members on the Security Council, albeit without veto powers, but their voices may carry weight in the debate.
But while the political posturing continues concerning the no-fly zone, people are dying in Libya. Fire from the Gaddafi forces’ heavy weapons, such as tanks and artillery, are reported to have caused hundreds of casualties among the largely untrained rebel forces. One publication states the casualty situation is actually worse than reported, but ships with humanitarian aid, it reports, are said to be arriving in Benghazi.
The Wall Street Journal reports Gaddafi’s forces also made some gains on Wednesday. Their main advance occurred in Zawiyah, a city 30 miles west of Tripoli, and resulted in the capture of the city’s central square. Gaddafi loyalists were also reported to be set “to recapture some oil towns where key oil facilities are located.” Possession of the country’s oil assets would not only give Gadaffi more leverage in any negotiations, but would also give him the money to continue the war, if necessary. Libya’s oil output currently stands at less than a third of its pre-war out of 1.6 million barrels a day.
To further bolster his position, Gaddafi has sent emissaries to South American, European and African countries as well as to Egypt reportedly to plead against outside action being taken against his regime. But while he will probably get no sympathy in Europe, Africa may be a different story. Gaddafi has taken advantage of Africa’s poverty in the past to bribe several political leaders for their support. And since the African Union is reported to be ambivalent at best to the establishment of a no-fly zone, Gaddafi’s influence seems to be holding despite his troubles. The other major international body connected to the region, the Arab League, is set to discuss the no-fly zone proposition this weekend.
President Obama held a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday, after which the White House issued a statement saying the two leaders agreed on “the departure of Gaddafi as quickly as possible.” The statement further emphasised that they would “press forward with the planning, including at NATO, on the full spectrum of possible responses, including surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo and a no-fly zone.”
Evident in the White House statement is that, once again, Obama is dropping his abhorrence for the detested George Bush approach and adopting his predecessor’s policy of building a “coalition of the willing” to achieve America’s foreign policy goals. In this, he is showing a growing maturity and a shedding of leftist naivety and ideology, at least in the international field, which comes from a sobering confrontation with the world’s sometimes brutal reality. So even if the Security Council votes against the no-fly zone, look for Obama and the other NATO leaders to establish one of their own that hopefully will also signal the end of his harmful, and embarrassing, multilateralism.