Recently, a few people have asked me in private emails for my opinion on the recent US actions in Libya. I am, of course, happy that someone cares what I think about anything, but rather than send out individual and identical emails, I will respond here though I think my views contribute nothing new to the recent debates.
I am not an expert on North Africa, or on matters of US foreign military policy. However, the recent actions by the Obama administration are, to me, simultaneously confusing and completely expected. The Obama administration has repeatedly stressed that actions in Libya are to protect the Libyan populace from heavy handed retaliations by Qaddafi’s forces. Qaddaffi is no Mubarak. Mubarak refuses to die for a seat of power, Qaddaffi would kill every single living being in Libya before ceding the leadership of Libya.
Recent events in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain and less recent events in Iran provide ample evidence as to the lengths that repressive Middle Eastern government will go to suppress dissent. To this end, the US has no choice but to involve itself, as promoters of democracy and freedom (and the mid-east’s biggest customer). This of course, assumes that the goal is to prevent governments from slaughtering their own people. Actions in Libya send a clear message to other North African/Mid East governments that world players such as the US, Europe and, to a lesser extent, the impotent Arab League will not tolerate politically motivated domestic bloodshed by oppressive leaderships. In this view, the actions in Libya are noble.
However, the incredible hypocrisy should be self-evident. First, the Arab League is made up of heavy handed states and repressive states that the action would attempt to dissuade. They offer up initial support for the actions in Libya, but then back off when public opinion sways against them. This, of course, prompts one to wonder what the Arab League wants. Perhaps thee states merely wish to distract the conversation of widespread unrest from their own countries so that they can repress dissent with impunity. Perhaps they wish to indicate to potential rebels that this is what will happen when you rise up against your masters: your country will become the next Iraq. One wonders if, as the pattern has been in the past, the states of the Arab League merely wish the US to do their dirty work for them. The Arab states wish Qaddaffi out, as they wished Saddam Hussein out, the blame rest squarely on the Americans, and the Arab League can wash its hands clean. It’s clear that the relationship of the Arab states with the US is complex and that Arab states must maintain a balance between what supports their economies and placating angry public opinion, but one has to wonder whether we’ve been drawn into some duplicitous endgame.
Next, the reaction of Congress to the actions of the Obama administrations goal could not be more hypocritical. Particularly disturbing has been the screaming from the Republican establishment which unanimously supported the cowboy administration of the Bush years which spent money with abandon, laid out no clear objectives to any military actions from 2001 to 2008, and actively called those who spoke out against illegal invasions of Iraq, secret prisons, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc. traitors against the state, unpatriotic and un-American. Yet now, the right has seen the light, and believes, after years of interventionist, imperialist and often violent foreign policy, it is now best that we sit on the sidelines in the Libyan crisis. Has the right all of sudden seen the errors of its ways? Pshaw. If Bush were in office, they would be praising him and a demigod of foreign policy, merely seeking to return the United Sates to its former glory as the sole imperial worldwide superpower. I may not agree with the actions of the Obama admin either, but this chapter is by far the most nauseating to me, at least as nauseating as witnessing a Democratic establishment sheepishly vote in favor of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, despite the clear fraud of his claims.
The actions of the Obama administration thus far, are completely legal under the War Powers Resolution of 1973. He need only notify Congress within 48 hours (which he did) and constrain actions to a 60 day window. Yet, this legal loophole does not absolve President Obama from the vast sea of hypocrisy of the United States and its benign and enabling treatment of dictators who kill their own people. Where has the United States been for the past 30 years of Robert Mugabe’s rule of Zimbabwe where he has repeatedly slaughtered his own people in order to suppress rightful dissent against his disastrous regime? The answer to this disconnect is clearly that of oil. Zimbabwe has nothing that the United States and Europe want, whereas Libya does. In this way, Obama raises the specter of his miserable predecessor, wantonly flexing his muscle to further US economic interests in the name of human rights and freedom, while enabling and encouraging the suppression of freedom and human rights elsewhere.
So, what is my opinion? In a nutshell, the Obama administration has bitten off way more than they are willing to chew. The plan in Libya is, to me, as a non-expert, poorly envisioned and dangerous. Is Obama a new Bush? No, that much is clear. The Obama administration’s lack of decisiveness and unwillingness to own up to its violence sets them apart from that of Mr. Bush, which drunkenly threw their military muscle around the world with few regrets. Rightists may take the Obama administration’s lack of focus as a sign of weakness, I consider it as a sign that they have considered the potential consequences. This doesn’t absolve Obama, but rather, is vastly preferable to the past alternatives.