Tag: Muammar Qaddafi

Qaddafi’s Death Does Not Legitimize U.S. Intervention in Libya

The death of Muammar Qaddafi is good news in that it should enable the United States to immediately terminate all military operations in Libya, and to turn over responsibility for security in the country to the recognized leaders of the new government.

Qaddafi’s death does not validate the original decision to launch military operations without authorization from Congress. The Libyan operation did not advance a vital national security interest, a point that former secretary of defense Robert Gates stressed at the time. Qaddafi could have been brought down by the Libyan people, but the Obama administration’s decision to overthrow him may now implicate the United States in the behavior of the post-Qaddafi regime. That is unfair to the American people, and to the Libyan people who can and must be held responsible for fashioning a new political order.

As we ponder the welcome news of Qaddafi’s capture, we should also recall the lessons from Iraq, and as they have played out in Libya. The fall of Baghdad in April 2003 did not signal the end of the Iraq war; likewise, the capture of Tripoli by anti-Qaddafi forces in August 2011 didn’t end the fighting there. I worry, too, that just as the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 didn’t end the Iraq War that pro-Qaddafi forces will continue to resist the new government there.

All Americans hope that that is not the case, that the fighting will cease immediately, and that the new leaders in Libya can quickly set about to reconcile the differences between the many Libyan factions, and U.S. military personnel can turn their attention to matters of vital concern to U.S. national security.

U.S. Must Resist Military Role in Post-Qaddafi Libya

After weeks of very little movement either militarily or diplomatically in Libya, there are apparent developments on both fronts in recent days. Rebel forces, aided by NATO’s air support, finally appear to be advancing into western Libya and cutting off supply lines to Tripoli, the long-time stronghold of support for Muammar Qaddafi. And reports are swirling about secret negotiations that might provide a peaceful exit from the country for the aging dictator.

Those developments underscore that U.S. and NATO officials urgently need to consider what strategy they intend to pursue if Qaddafi’s more than four-decade hold on power finally comes to an end.  That is more crucial for the leaders of the European members of the alliance, since Libya is located on Europe’s Mediterranean flank, but because the Obama administration unwisely chose to involve the United States in Libya’s internecine conflict by launching air strikes, it has become a pertinent issue for Washington as well.

The outlook for a post-Qaddafi Libya is midpoint between sobering and depressing.  It is possible that the warring parties will accept a de facto division of the country between the eastern and western tribes, although a formal agreement to that effect is unlikely. Even an informal partition would more accurately reflect the demographics, politics, and history of that territory than an insistence on keeping Libya intact. Moreover, the most probable alternatives to a peaceful territorial division would be a continuous, simmering civil war or a rebel victory that would merely breed resentment in the western part of the country and pave the way for a new round of fighting a few years from now.

The NATO powers must confront the question of how much they are willing to assist the insurgents in maintaining control of western Libya once Qaddafi is gone. Prospects are not good that a government formed by the eastern-dominated rebel forces would be able to win even a modest number of influential converts from the western tribes. And if the problem of achieving and maintaining political control was not enough of a challenge for the insurgents and their NATO sponsors, there is the matter of repairing the infrastructure damaged in the fighting and replenishing the now largely empty Libyan treasury.

A new government in Tripoli cannot count on oil revenues in the short or medium term to remedy those problems. Experts estimate that it will be at least three years before oil production can return to pre-war levels.

Libya’s probable security and economic difficulties will create tremendous pressure on NATO to provide extensive financial aid and deploy peacekeeping forces. Therein lies the danger to the United States. Logically, if NATO does deploy ground forces, they should come overwhelmingly from France and some of the other countries bordering the Mediterranean. Those nations have the most at stake in trying to stabilize Libya. NATO members in central and northern Europe (with the exception of Britain) have shown little desire to engage in such a mission. So far, the Obama administration has indicated that the United States will not put ground forces into Libya —a wise exercise in restraint.

But given the financial woes of Italy, France and other key European members of the alliance, and given the habitual desire of the Europeans to off-load security problems onto the United States as NATO’s leader, it is all too likely that we will see a concerted campaign to get Washington’s participation in a post-Qaddafi peacekeeping mission. The Obama administration should firmly reject such overtures.  Washington’s agenda is already more than full with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the NATO nation-building missions in Bosnia and Kosovo provide ample evidence that a similar venture in Libya could prove extremely lengthy, expensive, and frustrating. President Obama should resist any temptation to involve the United States further in Libya’s domestic quarrels.

Cross-posted from the National Interest.

Monday Links

  • “Sadly, in Egypt’s case, a freely elected civilian government may prove powerless in the face of the deeply entrenched and well-organized military.”
  • “Washington politicians from both parties, and bureaucrats, have for decades successfully decreased our freedom and liberties as they have regulated more and more of our lives, including our retirement.”
  • “The Ryan proposal correctly focuses on achieving debt reduction through spending cuts, but this very gradual debt reduction schedule is a weakness that could lead to its downfall.”
  • “Nearly two years ago Sen. McCain, along with Senators Graham and Lieberman, was supping with Qaddafi in Tripoli, discussing the possibility of Washington providing military aid.”
  • Cato media fellow Radley Balko joined FOX Business Network’s Stossel recently to discuss your right to make video recordings of police, and why exercising that right frequently is vital to liberty:


The Good News and Bad News about ‘Sneakers on the Ground’

There is good news and bad news about the report that the Obama administration authorized CIA teams to go into Libya to liaise with the Libyan opposition before instituting a no-fly zone over that country. (The phrase “sneakers on the ground” has emerged in response to the administration’s firm insistence that there are no US boots on the ground there.)

Get the map out

The good news is that the administration, despite prior appearances, does indeed have a strategy in Libya: siding with the rebels in their effort to depose Muammar Qaddafi. The bad news is that siding with the rebels in their effort to depose Muammar Qaddafi is not a good strategy.

It is probably important to make clear at the outset that I do not mean to overstate the stakes here. I am not suggesting that the Libya intervention necessarily will produce a Vietnam or Iraq-scale blunder. And it is always possible that Col. Qaddafi will be deposed swiftly and a reasonably orderly transition to a reasonably decent replacement will take place.

But I would not bet on it.

Why not? For one, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper yesterday described the opposition itself as a “pick-up basketball team.” This, to my ear, does not sound like a group of people prepared for modern governance of a national state.There also have been somewhat murky reports that jihadists, if not inner-circle al Qaeda types, number among the opposition with whom we are siding. It is probably worth noting that Paul Wolfowitz, a vocal advocate of throwing our lot in with the Libyan opposition, responded to a question (at 56:50 of the video here) whether he could name the leaders of the opposition by admitting that he could not, advising instead that “you can Google and find out.” We just don’t know these people terribly well.

In addition, it is far from clear that the pick-up basketball team can win. A “senior U.S. intelligence official” yesterday reported that Qaddafi’s people have rather rapidly adapted to the no-fly zone:

Gadhafi’s forces have adopted a new tactic in light of the pounding that airstrikes have given their tanks and armored vehicles, a senior U.S. intelligence official said. They’ve left some of those weapons behind in favor of a “gaggle” of “battle wagons”: minivans, sedans and sport-utility vehicles fitted with weapons, said the official, who spoke anonymously in order to discuss sensitive U.S. intelligence on the condition and capabilities of rebel and regime forces. Rebel fighters also said Gadhafi’s troops were increasingly using civilian vehicles in battle.

The change not only makes it harder to distinguish Gadhafi’s forces from the rebels, it also requires less logistical support, the official said.

This seemed to me a blazingly obvious approach for Qaddafi to take, given that were he to move his armor or artillery, it would almost certainly become a target for the coalition, but it would be much harder to detect small groups of men armed with small arms. You fight with what you can use.

All of this seems to mitigate in favor of the government, but it should be pointed out that the unsophisticated, poorly led, and poorly armed rebels have some notable advantages as well. A reasonably unsophisticated force in Afghanistan currently has the modern world’s mightiest military power bogged down in that country with only limited organization, arms, and leadership of their own. From a defensive standpoint, a few thousand men with small arms who are willing to fight and die can cause a big headache for counterinsurgents, particularly were Qaddafi to attempt to retake Benghazi with these men he’s shipping eastward.

Secretary Gates was right to say that there is no vital U.S. interest at stake in Libya over the weekend, and he is right to threaten to quit if the administration moves to insert U.S. ground forces. It wasn’t worth war to get rid of Muammar Qaddafi two months ago, and it isn’t worth war today.

President Obama Must Outline an Exit Strategy in Libya

There is ample recent evidence that the president has some difficulty with entrances and exits.  The linked video is a humorous example; the building conundrum in Libya is not.

President Obama’s decision to launch a series of military strikes against Libya raises a host of questions, many more than can be answered in his much-belated address to the American people tonight. At a minimum, the President must clarify the purpose and scope of the mission. He has declared that the sole object is to protect civilians from harm. Others in his administration, however, suggest that military operations will continue until Muammar Qaddafi leaves office.

In fact, the two goals might be contradictory, as the need to protect civilians from violence could well extend long after Qaddafi’s regime is toppled. If the rebels seize power and then turn their guns on former regime supporters, the U.S. military may find itself in the middle of a bloody civil war, as it did in Iraq. President Obama must provide assurances to the American people that he has not committed American blood, treasure, and prestige to a mission that does nothing to preserve U.S. national security, and might ultimately harm it.

Even if the President can clarify the mission, articulate an exit strategy, and give ironclad assurances that the U.S. military is not involved in yet another open-ended nation-building mission, the President’s speech this evening cannot explain away his blatant abuse of executive power. In 2007, Senator Obama declared “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” And yet no one has claimed that Qaddafi’s threats against the Libyan rebels posed a threat to the United States. Nor can anyone show that Qaddafi’s ouster would advance U.S. security. If the rebels prove more tolerant of al Qaeda or other violent extremists, the net effect of this intervention might be to increase the threat of attack against the United States.

Obama’s instincts in 2007 were correct. His ascendancy to the presidency appears to have prompted a change of heart, but no one should be encouraged by this Oval Office conversion. That his predecessors have similarly abused their power is no excuse. The United States is governed by laws, not by men. To allow a single person to wage war without the expressed consent of the people, as stipulated by the Constitution, merely compounds the serious harm done to our institutions of government over the past several decades.

The Dean of Liberal Interventionism on Libya

Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter

Anne-Marie Slaughter, recently head of the State Department’s policy planning staff and now having retreated to her post as the dean of the liberal interventionists at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, laments that her former boss’s boss is “fiddling while Libya burns.” Slaughter thinks the United States should implement a no-fly zone over Libya, with the UN’s blessing if we can, or with a coalition of the willing if we must. She takes up five arguments made by skeptics and claims they are all wanting. I want to take up a few of them below.

First, in making the case that intervention is in America’s interest, she writes that “we have a chance to support a real new beginning in the Muslim world—a new beginning of accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism.”

What does Slaughter know about the Libyan opposition that the rest of us don’t? On what basis is she judging that were they to prevail, they would necessarily institute accountable government that provides services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease their support for terrorist groups and violent extremism?

Second, she says that a no-fly zone will accomplish America’s objectives in Libya, despite the critics’ skepticism. Interestingly, Slaughter’s former boss Hillary Clinton said the following in testimony to Congress last week:

I want to remind people that, you know, we had a no-fly zone over Iraq.  It did not prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering people on the ground, and it did not get him out of office.  We had a no-fly zone, and then we had 78 days of bombing in Serbia.  It did not get Milosevic out of office.  It did not get him out of Kosovo until we put troops on the ground with our allies.

Finally, Slaughter admits that we have no idea what would follow Qaddafi, insisting that this misconstrues the problem: “the choice is between uncertainty and the certainty that if Colonel Qaddafi wins, regimes across the region will conclude that force is the way to answer protests,” which doesn’t really deal with concerns about what may follow Qaddafi.

Curiously, in the very next paragraph, she warns against arming the rebels, calling them “ragged groups of brave volunteers who barely know how to use the weapons they have.” If these are the people who we’re supposed to help overthrow Qaddafi, who is going to run the Libyan state once he goes? Slaughter’s Gang that Can’t Shoot Straight?

I haven’t written much about Libya because there’s so much that I don’t know about the country and I certainly don’t know what is likely to follow Qaddafi. In particular, though, the focus on a no-fly zone is bizarre. If people think that it is in the national interest to be rid of Muammar Qaddafi, then get rid of him, already. Why start with half-measures? Or is it that openly making the case for forcible regime change in Tripoli would weaken public support for the policy? Or would weaken international support? If either of those is true, what does that tell us about the policy?

Given Washington’s track record with this sort of thing, I think we should terribly skeptical about intervening in the Libyan conflict. If the arguments above are the best the interventionists can do, our policy should remain one of no new wars.

NB: People whose judgment I trust far more than Slaughter, like Bob Pape and Mike Desch, are making separate cases for various types of intervention. I am left with lots of unanswered questions after reading their pieces, but it bears noting that it is not just the normal gaggle of neoconservatives and liberal imperialists agitating for American involvement. Still, “it won’t be as bad as Iraq” is a rather soft case for a new policy.