Muammar Qaddafi’s goal is obvious: If he goes down, he wants to bring Libya with him. He wants the day he falls to be remembered as a day of bloodshed, not of joy. His fighter jets are firing on protesters and a new report says he has ordered the destruction of his country’s oil facilities, which would eliminate 75 to 90 percent of the next government’s revenue and make the world feel his pain as oil prices skyrocket. It is time for the U.S. to step in.
President Obama finally made a statement yesterday about the uprising in Libya, saying the violence is “outrageous and unacceptable” and that the government had a “strong responsibility to refrain from violence.” As for a response, no specifics were offered beyond: “We are reviewing a variety of options with our international partners…”
President Obama should have called for Qaddafi’s resignation days ago. If Hosni Mubarak qualified as a leader unworthy of office, then Qaddafi surely does as well. Yet, in the speech, Qaddafi’s name was not even mentioned. The Obama administration has made improving the image of the U.S. a top objective of its foreign policy but its failure to decisively side with the people dying for the rights we cherish is tarnishing it. It is time to unequivocally stand in favor of the Libyan revolution.
As Paul Wolfowitz points out, the Arab world is seeing a connection between the unengaged attitude of the U.S. and Secretary of State Clinton’s 2009 meeting with one of Qaddafi’s sons. The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. has turned on Qaddafi and is cautioning the U.S. that its current posture gives the appearance to the Arab world that the West “has only a materialist mind—they don’t care about human rights…except when it comes to their own interest.” The Arab and Muslim world, he said, “[won’t] trust America or the West if they behave that way.”
The U.S. and its allies should immediately reach out to any non-Islamist party or opposition leader in Libya, including the tribal chiefs, to begin forming a transitional government. This expression of confidence that Qaddafi will not last will do much to motivate the Libyan people. This transitional government, if put together before the dictator falls, should be given authority over liberated territory like Benghazi. The military and police who have defected can become part of the new security forces that can prevent anarchy, and elements of the regime that have embraced the revolution should be welcomed. Through this government, the West can deliver humanitarian supplies to bring relief to the conflicted areas. The creation of this body would help non-Islamist forces organize for the day when elections are held and would make for as smooth of a transition as possible.
The U.S. must take the lead in the international community in warning that the names of anyone carrying out violence against the protesters are being collected and they will be prosecuted. The assets of any official who has not turned against Qaddafi should be frozen. Fighter jets being used to fire upon the Libyan people can be shot out of the sky, especially if Libyan airspace must be entered to evacuate staff and citizens. The mere threat of this would cause most, if not all, of the fighter pilots to go AWOL. The alternative is to watch Libyan protesters get massacred while they ask why the U.S. does nothing and time is given to Qaddafi to destroy his oil infrastructure.
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