Anything so as not to appear to be like George Bush.
That was the not-so-hidden theme of President Barack Obama’s speech on Libya last Monday. In his first crack at his predecessor, Obama defended his decision to not expand the American mission in Libya by saying “we went down that road in Iraq.” In another, an allusion to the superiority of his approach to foreign affairs over that of Bush’s, Obama stressed the fact he was acting in Libya out of humanitarian motives and on the basis of a United Nations (UN) mandate (Bush did not obtain one for his Iraq invasion).
“”The Libyan opposition, and the Arab League, appealed to the world to save lives in Libya,” Obama said. “At my direction, America led an effort with our allies at the United Nations Security Council to pass an historic Resolution that authorized a No-Fly Zone to stop the regime’s attacks from the air, and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people.”
But while Obama is priding himself on not being like George Bush, the current president’s well-known penchant for multilateral action abroad and for putting American interests and foreign policy in the hands of international bodies is turning out to be a disaster for everyone involved, especially for the Libyans. In the end, American reliance on the UN to determine its foreign policy will ultimately wind up costing more money and lives than a quick and massive, unilateral NATO invasion. At the other end of the scale, negotiations and no intrevention would have even been more preferable.
Obama stated the UN established the No-Fly Zone to protect Libyans from Gaddafi and proudly said in his speech NATO warplanes prevented a massacre in Benghazi, which the Libyan dictator’s troops were poised to overrun two weeks ago. While this is true, Obama failed to mention that it took three weeks to get that mandate, during which time Gaddafi’s troops ousted most of the rebel forces from Western Libya.
Before their ouster, the rebels occupied towns and cities as close as 30 kilometres to Tripoli. A quick intervention by NATO ground troops to bolster rebel positions, or the threat to do so, would have seen Gaddafi’s small army confined to the Tripoli area. Military force is the only thing a nasty bully like Gaddafi appears to understand. George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, for example, caused the Libyan leader to give up his weapons of mass destruction program, since Gaddafi was afraid he would be next.
But during this wait for UN approval for action, the Libyan dictator captured the rebel-held areas in Western Libya, after which he sent in his secret police to hunt down rebel supporters. The resulting death toll is unknown. The hunt for rebel sympathisers continued as his forces advanced into rebel-held Eastern Libya. After their retreat, several hundred people were listed as missing by the Libyan Red Crescent. In a dozen cases, Human Rights Watch reports “government forces answered the mobile phone of the missing person.” Gaddafi’s “campaign of killing”, which Obama said the UN-mandated bombing stopped, continues.
Ironically, to end the violence and the killing, Obama’s current proposed plan entails violating the UN mandate he is so proud of having brought about. But Obama would never admit he is doing so, since the UN is sacrosanct among leftists, and he would also be acting, once again, like George Bush in his unwillingness to be bound by the UN’s restrictions (Obama has previously said he wants Gaddafi gone, but regime change is also not part of the UN mandate).
This latest mandate violation concerns the proposed plan under consideration by Obama and NATO to arm and train the rebel force, which has proven woefully inadequate in battle against Gaddafi’s troops. But Paragraph 9 of UN Resolution 1970, which establishes sanctions against Libya, unambiguously states: “… all Member States shall immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply … to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Republic)… of arms and related materials of all types…” Arming the rebels would therefore be illegal.
However, in a contortion worthy of Houdini, Hillary Clinton says Paragraph 4 of UN Resolution 1973 allows arms shipments to the rebels. But if so, this passage, which only mentions “necessary measures,” says this is to happen only if civilians are “under threat of attack.” If Gaddafi pulls back to Western Libya and allows the war to settle into a stalemate, then there is no legal justification for the Obama administration to pursue this policy. Moreover, arming and training the rebels will be very expensive and lead to more violence and death in a protracted struggle.
Other dangers also exist in giving the rebels weapons. A justifiable fear exists the United States would be arming hardcore Islamists among their number who would one day turn their guns against the West, which speaks against the plan. Also speaking against the plan is the fact the rebels want to kill Gaddafi and his supporters, tribal or otherwise, which is the main reason for his fierce resistance. A warning against such massacres was issued to the rebels this week, and such admonitions usually do not arise in a vacuum.
Rebel massacres with American-supplied weapons would undoubtedly not look good on the White House, especially after the UN resolution Obama sponsored to protect Libyan civilians. Such a horrific development would be particularly embarrassing for the president who said in his Monday speech: “The United States is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” In this case, his shipping arms to the rebels may actually result in such slaughter and mass graves.
Like with Tunisia and Egypt, the Obama administration appears not to have had any prepared policy regarding an uprising in Libya, proving once again it is reactive rather than proactive and deeply over its head in the foreign affairs field. Relying on UN resolutions to determine American action in Libya is producing a worse-case scenario: a long, expensive and exhausting conflict with a large number of civilian casualties, which the “historic Resolution” and American air intervention were meant to prevent. It is a scenario that may yet require American soldiers, despite the president’s and Defense Secretary Robert Gate’s denials, if Gaddafi threatens to overrun Eastern Libya again.