It appears that Qaddafi is well on his way to repelling the rebel assault in Libya.
This morning on Morning Joe I heard lefty Nicholas Kristof say the following about the Obama Administration’s position:
Question: What is now holding back the United States from acting in a forceful way, in a way that shows leadership, maybe even out front, but with the support of others?
Kristof: Part of the problem is that we have stalled too long. I mean a no-fly zone would have been, I think, quite effective three weeks ago, I think, probably would have been very effective. At this point, when… Qaddafi has been able to move all of his artillery right next to Benghazi, there’ much less that we an actually do. And so now the administration is talking about going way beyond and actually attacking tanks and having a “no-move” zone in eastern Libya, which actually makes me kind of nervous.
Question: Was there an opportunity missed here? What happened?
Kristof: Absolutely. Absolutely. They were so nervous about a no-fly zone that they missed that opportunity. There was a real window here, when we could have moved in with, I think, minimal costs and peeled off the Libyan military from Qaddafi, but that window at this point has pretty much closed.
A bona fide lefty who thinks Obama should have acted sooner and that the “costs” would have been “minimal.” Hmm. I’m not sure why he thinks that.
Now, let’s turn to the Right. National Review was initially opposed to direct intervention in Libya, and wrote of the so-called no-fly zone strategy:
If we are serious about limiting his ability to massacre his countrymen, the no-fly zone would have to become a no machine-gun zone, too — in other words an honest-to-goodness military intervention to affect events directly on the ground. Deploying our air power while Qaddafi continued to kill with impunity would make us look more ineffectual rather than less. For now (perhaps this will change if Qaddafi begins to consolidate his position on the strength of his air force), the no-fly zone seems a classic case of looking for lost keys under the streetlight; it’s the handiest way for us to intervene, not the most effective.
That was written on February 28. Yesterday, the same editors wrote this:
Qaddafi is a murderer of Americans with whom we still have a score to settle. If he survives after we and our allies sought his ouster (even if ineffectually), he will be even more unpredictable; he would be foolish not to restart his WMD programs as insurance against foreign intervention against his regime in the future.
Uh-oh. The Right talking about WMDs again? I suppose you know what is coming next:
All this means that we should want the rebellion against Qaddafi to survive. We initially opposed a no-fly zone, but circumstances have changed. We should establish both a no-fly zone and a no-drive zone in the approach to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi to prevent Qaddafi’s armored vehicles from entering the city.
Make no mistake about this: That “no-drive zone” means war. And just how long would it be before that strategy would mean American troops on the ground in Libya? Well, National Review’s conservative editors think of everything, don’t they? Try this:
We are not talking of a military operation comparable to taking and occupying Baghdad in 2003. If we check Qaddafi’s offensive, then we can consider other options. Perhaps we will only want to do what’s necessary to maintain the rebels’ enclave so they can fight another day; perhaps we will want to undertake decapitation strikes against the regime in Tripoli; perhaps we’ll want to use the threat of such strikes to try to bargain Qaddafi out of the country.
Or perhaps we will get ourselves involved in a mess that we can’t get out of.
Even if we stopped Qaddafi’s advance into eastern Libya, namely Benghazi, then what? Help the rebels overthrow him? We know next to nothing about the motives of the rebels. We don’t know they would be better or worse than Qaddafi himself. We don’t know that if they were to overthrow him that they would establish a Madisonian democracy or call up Glenn Beck for instructions on how to establish a caliphate.
Besides all that, there is evidence that tribal loyalties were much misunderstood in the West and that the rebel strength was vastly overrated. This point is made very well in an article by Vivienne Walt at Time, who quoted Mustafa Fetouri, of the Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli, as saying,
The West’s interpretation was very, very stupid. They just gambled on the wrong thing, and made a huge, stupid mistake.
The Time article continued:
One crucial error by Western leaders, says Fetouri, has been to downplay Libya’s complex web of tribal loyalties, which has helped to keep Gaddafi in power for more than four decades — an impressive achievement, given several assassination attempts and years of Libya being an international pariah under stiff economic sanctions. Some tribal alliances date back decades to the bloody rebellions against the Italian colonial forces before World War II, and even some tribal leaders who hold grudges against Gaddafi, for having failed to deliver services or cutting them out of certain privileges, rushed to his defense once the antigovernment demonstrations in Benghazi became an armed rebellion. For those people, says Fetouri, “they will die for Gaddafi, because he belongs to their tribe.”
And because the rebels adopted the same flag used by the much-despised monarch that Qaddafi overthrew in his 1969 coup, it became much easier for him to enlist volunteers, as Time put it, “to fight to hold Libya together.”
It turns out, as G. K. Chesterton told us long ago, that it matters what flag one flies. Time:
That flag, says Fetouri, “represents the misery my country lived through as puppets of the West.” He cites one of his relatives — no fan of Gaddafi — who traveled 400 miles (640 km) to join the government forces against the rebels; he had driven from the Bani Walid area, the heartland of the Warfalli tribe southeast of Tripoli, which has long been the bedrock of Gaddafi’s support. Fetouri, who says he himself had been tempted to join the antigovernment protests before they morphed into an armed rebellion, asked his relative why he was “fighting for Gaddafi.” He said the man told him “it was about Libya the country, not Gaddafi.”
Thus, we are likely watching Qaddafi retake the territory he has lost, unless the West does something.
I confess, I’m torn here. Like a majority of the American people, part of me thinks we should not get involved. Mind our own business. We’ve invaded two countries over there, enough is enough.
But part of me also believes that if we could help the rebels without a long-term commitment, we should. We should be on the side of so-called freedom fighters, particularly since the Arab world is asking us to. What that involves militarily, I don’t know. But I do know it should not involve putting one American on the ground to possibly die in someone else’s civil war. Not now, not this war.
Some good folks are urging President Obama to act now. They seem to know better than he does what is involved both in terms of his personal legacy as president and in terms of America’s larger legacy. The New Republic writes that Bill Clinton “waited tragically too long” to intervene in Bosnia in the mid-1990s:
When Slobodan Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb allies launched their war of “ethnic cleansing,” while “the West”—which is always to say, first and foremost, the United States—wrung its hands, many tens of thousands of innocent people were murdered and raped before President Bill Clinton finally found the resolve to mix air power and diplomacy to bring the genocidal violence to a halt.
Qaddafi is the kind of neighborhood bully that Slobodan Milosevic was. And he must be met by the same kind of principled power. For America to do less than that now—less than the minimum that the Libyan rebels and the Arab neighbors are requesting—would be to shrink into global vacillation and ultimately irrelevance. If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?
It’s a lot easier to write that kind of stuff than it is to have to actually make a real decision, no doubt. As for me, I can live with whatever limited intervention the President decides to undertake, or I can live with his decision not to intervene. But I won’t measure his presidency by this decision one way or the other. It’s just not that simple.
And I don’t think that America’s global reputation hangs in the balance over what to do about Libya. It’s not that simple, either.
What is simple to understand, though, is that being president these days is an especially tough job. And I remain confident that the right man for these times is holding that job.