Anyone who believes that NATO’s overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi is a “success” for President Obama’s foreign policy should listen to the speech of Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council, at the “liberation day” celebrations in Benghazi: “We are an Islamic country,” the de facto president of Libya proclaimed to the crowds shouting “Allahu Akbar.” “We take the Islamic religion as the core of our new government. The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion.”
Despite these troubling portents for Libya’s future, the brutal end of Muammar Gaddafi is being spun as a “vindication” of President Obama’s foreign policy philosophy, as The New York Times has it. In an obvious swipe at the trigger-happy, unilateralist “cowboy” George Bush, the Times praises Obama’s “carefully calibrated response” that “relies on collective, rather than unilateral action” and “on surgical strikes rather than massive troop deployments.” The president himself crowed, “We’ve demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century.”
Such a reading of the Libyan adventure must rely on ignoring numerous unpleasant facts. Despite the implication that Obama assembled this coalition and thus deserves credit for it, in fact he was dragged into Libya by France and England. The last thing Obama wanted, having demonized the war in Iraq as a “quagmire” leading to “reckless escalation,” was to get Americans involved in yet another conflict involving Middle East Muslims. But the intervention was attractive to the Europeans as a way of gaining some geo-political clout to go along with their pretensions that they are one of the essential “poles” in a “multipolar” world, as French president Jacques Chirac once claimed. And don’t forget that before the conflict, E.U. countries got 10% of their imported oil from Libya. The conflict in nearby Libya, with its population of six million, long Mediterranean coastline, and mostly flat terrain perfect for establishing dominance over airspace, was tailor-made for such prestige-building on the cheap. Gaddafi’s bluster about exterminating the “rats” in rebel-held Benghazi merely provided the moral camouflage for the Europeans.
Moreover, an American president devoted to “multilateralism” and eager to “lead from behind” was amenable to facilitating the charade that this was a NATO operation, even though given European military weakness, America had to provide the intelligence-gathering aircraft, Predator drones, aerial refueling tankers, and precision-guided bombs that were necessary for destroying Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft batteries so that the Europeans could bomb with impunity. Even still, it took eight months and 20,000 sorties for NATO forces enjoying air superiority and high-tech weaponry to defeat a tin-pot dictator and his hired army. As for the vaunted Security Council resolution, which was passed ostensibly to prevent a “genocidal” slaughter, it was quickly revealed to be a sham when it became obvious that NATO was attempting to kill Gaddafi and bring about regime-change. So much for the moral purity of “collective action” sporting the Security Council seal of approval.
More importantly, what American interests was Obama serving by getting involved in Europe’s exercise in geopolitical public relations? Gaddafi was a vicious, blood-stained dictator, and there’s no doubt the world’s a better place without him. But since he had abandoned his WMD programs in 2003, he had behaved himself as far as our interests were concerned. We have the photos of Gaddafi smiling with Condoleezza Rice and President Obama himself to prove it. The talk about punishing the architect of the Lockerbie bombing that killed 189 Americans was a specious pretext, since we’d known for years Gaddafi was responsible. Indeed, Libya had admitted as much and paid $2.16 billion to the families of the American victims of the bombing. In 2008 another $1.5 billion was put into a fund to compensate victims of other Libyan terrorist attacks. These payments were the price for the removal of Libya from the list of states supporting terrorism, the lifting of trade sanctions, and the restoration of diplomatic relations with the U.S. Given that diplomatic rapprochement, it’s hard to see what had changed so drastically in Gaddafi’s behavior that justified American involvement in getting rid of someone we had previously admitted back into our good graces. After all, there are numerous oppressive dictators––Bashar al-Assad in nearby Syria comes to mind, not to mention the thuggish mullahs in Iran––that this administration has resigned itself to coexisting with. And unlike the defanged Gaddafi, they’re patently hostile to us and actively working against our interests.
Our precipitate abandonment of Gaddafi has already put at risk our national security. The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime engineered by NATO has set loose thousands of weapons, some of which are very likely headed to the black markets supplying terrorists. In February, rebels were documented plundering assault rifles, machine guns, mines, grenades, antitank missiles, and rocket-propelled grenades from arms depots. According to government officials in Chad and Algeria, some of these weapons have already reached the North African al Qaeda affiliate Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Particularly worrisome are the SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 of which were stockpiled by the Gaddafi regime. These weapons have in the past brought down commercial airliners, including an Air Rhodesia plane, an Angolan Airways 737, a Sudan Airways plane, and the plane carrying the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda, which led to the Rwandan genocide. And don’t forget the remnants of Libya’s WMD program, including 10 tons of mustard gas and dumps of raw nuclear fuel, that we are depending on the NTC to secure, on the assumption that it will in fact be able to restore order over the numerous heavily armed tribal factions, and account for the missing weapons and secure the remainder before they end up in the hands of terrorists.
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