Pres. Barack Obama’s Libyan initiative splintered the political spectrum creating strange bedfellows. The wrangle reflects not only infinite complications but the Administration’s obfuscation. Momentarily it is far easier, with the outcome still very much in doubt, to define what is not true than what it is.
So here we go, what is “Libya” all about:
- Humanitarianism Not exactly. Yes, there is little doubt Qadaffi would use any barbarism to maintain control – as he always has. But that does that differ from a half dozen other Arab leaders. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton called Syrian Pres. Basher al-Asaad “a reformer” although he has maintained his father’s regime which mowed down as many as 80,000 civilians in a 1982 “Syrian spring” — and he is at it again
- Oil Not exactly. True, Libya’s 2 million b /da light crude was important to the Europeans [and our East coast product imports]. But its loss isn’t going to determine world crude prices – or our skyrocketing pump prices. When this bash is over, a free for all will develop for Libyan crude – including prospecting for presumed large reserves.
- Terrorism Not exactly. True, Muammar Qadaffi has led state-sponsored terrorism which cost 270 mostly American lives in the Lockerbie PanAm103 crash and killed two and wounded 250 Americans in a Berlin discothèque. He has cost tens of thousands of lives in Black Africa backing rival politicians. But he has also been an al Qaeda target, reportedly exchanging intelligence with Washington. Now some of his hard-core opposition in Cyrenaica [eastern Libya] are drawn from Afghanistan veterans who fought the Soviets and later US/NATO forces.
- Democracy Not exactly. It’s not an accident, as the Communists used to say, not a single democracy exists among 22 Arab states. There is no Arab tradition of individualism, local government, sacrosanct private property, independent judiciary or pluralism. Islam arose among the Arabs not only as a religion but as an all encompassing lifestyle incorporating primitive tribalism. Democracy is more than elections. Indeed, several North African and Mideast countries would vote in – probably once only — Islamicist totalitarians [as they tried to do in Algeria]. It won’t come to Libya soon.
- US strategic interest Not exactly. The U.S. has an enormous stake in the region from which 40% of world crude production powers economies for the near term if not longer. As a leading trading nation the U.S. maintains the free flow of commerce through the Suez Canal, the Bab el Mandeb and the Hormuz Strait. U.S. national security would be threatened by weapons of mass destruction and intercontinental missiles in the hands of enemies in the region. Iran’s ability to fish in troubled Arab waters is as important as its attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Libya is a minor player in this game but its civil war inevitably sucks in its neighbors.
- Obama Doctrine success Not exactly. The Administration’s claim to have pulled off a multinational rescue effort as an alternative to traditional post-World War II American leadership and sacrifice is smoke and mirrors. The UN resolution, to avoid Russian and Chinese vetoes, excluded regime change even as the President called for Qadaffi to go. The “turnover” to NATO is to an American military commander and largely U.S. logistics if not frontline fighters. Other Arabs’ support is fickle at best. CIA and other “sneakers” on the ground, essential to coordinate operations, could eventually draw in American “boots”.
- Constitutional authority Not only did the President omit the traditional Oval Office l’envoi to American troops going into battle and reassure he public, he did not seek simultaneous Congressional endorsement. Instantaneous communication and ever faster transportation again have defeated the purpose of the War Powers Act aimed at reinforcing the Constitutional provision only Congress declares war. So look again for new amendments, as useless in defining the Constitutional guarantee as earlier versions.
Does that mean the U.S. should have remained out? Probably not. Two of its major NATO allies – Britain and France – were gung ho to take on Qadaffi. When Washington demurred in the Suez Crisis of 1956, taking an equally moralistic position but against its allies, it resulted in Soviet Mideast mischief-making for two generations. Unanticipated consequences are always the name of the game.