June 18, 2013
Obama’s Libyan Quandary
Posted on Mar 18, 2011
Until the passage of the U.N. resolution, President Barack Obama seemingly ignored and deflected the war chants and gratuitous advice of the Wolfowitz crowd. Perhaps Obama recognizes the limits not only for our capacity for war, but for mobilizing the energy and will to conduct—and finish—one.
The Arab League’s call for a no-fly zone has not been accompanied by a clear commitment that its members would participate beyond offering Arab cover and little more than sympathy and succor. Pity. The 22-member league could readily assemble a force vastly superior to Libya’s. Many of the members—notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan—have received lavish military aid from the United States for decades, including highly sophisticated aircraft.
The bold campaigner of the 2008 presidential race missed a wonderful opportunity for the audacious spirit he displayed then. Imagine if Obama had seized upon the news from the Arab League’s Cairo headquarters and urged our Arab “allies” to themselves impose a no-fly zone over Libya. “Yes you can,” the president might have said. We already have provided the Arabs with planes; presumably, the Saudis would be able to spare fuel. Let the Arabs themselves establish restraints and limitations on Gadhafi. We need not further impair our credibility in that part of the world. This time let us be the one to offer sympathy and succor, and let others do the heavy lifting.
More than 60 years ago United States committed itself to the doctrine of collective security. The ratification of the 1949 NATO treaty incorporated the idea as part of our fundamental law. But collective security has been a snare and chimera, with the United States bearing the effort and costs, with only token contributions from allied nations. (See Afghanistan.) Collective security all too often has been a ploy to mobilize public opinion in support of a dubious war. (See Iraq.)
The president has been mired in a quandary over Libya. He seems to know better than to bog us down in another military adventure, yet his fundamental decency and regard for some measure of human rights in all probability propelled a desire on his part to do something for the Libyan rebels. But he missed a splendid opportunity to call the Arab League on its own pronouncement. Had he done so, he might well have imposed a new dimension to the concept of collective security—one that might have restored and fulfilled our original hopes.
Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.
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