Times Criticizes Libya Policy

Even his liberal constituency is alarmed but the Obama Administration resists intervention without UN approval.

Tags: Obama Libya UN
Amiel Ungar , | updated: 9:45 PM

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

In what was portrayed as an "exclusive interview" with CBS News, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that intervention in Libya was contingent on UN authorization. Clinton placed her hopes on the British and French approach to the UN with a draft resolution that would endorse international action "I think it's very important that there be a UN decision on whatever might be done," she told Erica Hill on the network's "The Early Show"

The American Secretary of State defended her position by explaining "We don't want there to be any room for anyone, including Col. Qaddafi, to say that 'this isn't about my people, this is about outsiders.' Because that would be doing a grave disservice to the sacrifice of the people in Libya."

If someone believed Clinton's insistence on a UN endorsement was a momentary lapse, she said essentially the same thing to Britain's Sky News regarding the issue of the no-fly zone "it's important that the United Nations make this decision – not the United States"

US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder also poured cold water on the idea of a no-fly zone claiming “the kinds of capabilities that are being used to attack the rebel forces and, indeed, the population, will be largely unaffected by a no-fly zone,”

The hesitation displayed by Obama's administration has dismayed even some of its staunchest supporters in the media. The New York Times commented in an editorial: "The Obama administration is throwing out so many conflicting messages on Libya that they are blunting any potential pressure on the Libyan regime and weakening American credibility. It’s dangerous to make threats if you’re not prepared to follow through. All of the public hand-wringing has made it even worse."

While sharing the administration's desire to avoid another American military entanglement, the paper claimed that a way had to be found to stop Qaddafi's momentum and the imminent slaughter of his own people.

An article in the Atlantic also argued that it was time for the administration to display clarity, "If the United States is to bomb Libya, the argument must be made now, both at home and to the international community, before Qaddafi can slaughter his way to victory over the rebel movement. Such a public debate might alone deter Qaddafi from further bloodshed. But if the U.S. is to stay home, the president should explain why he is willing to accept bloodshed that does not intersect with U.S. interests. That might clearly signal to protestors that they should not count on U.S. assistance, and possibly prevent the same massacre that befell the Iraqi Kurds following the Gulf War."

Rejecting Clinton's argument that US intervention would allow Qadaffi to brand the revolution, the article argues "Such malcontents will say that no matter what."

In the Senate, John McCain of Arizona and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut pressed for an immediate implementation of the no-fly zone, while Armed services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan backed the administration's restraint and waiting for Arab and African states to take action. Levin hoped that Arab states in conjunction with the African Union union would impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

The administration's apparent hesitation is open to 2 interpretations:

It may be naïve enough to believe that Russia and China will provide a green light to US intervention. The last time that this happened was in 1991 over Kuwait, when the Soviet Union was in its death throes and China was seeking rehabilitation after the Tienamen Square massacre. Hillary Clinton is, of course, married to a former American president who dispatched NATO forces against the Serbs to save the Albanians of Kosovo without UN authorization.

If Levi seriously believes that the African Union and Arab League will provide the military push and spear the United States need for intervention, he needs to look no further than the Ivory Coast where the African Union has been powerless. Such naiveté is perhaps guided by Obama's 2009 Cairo address, presenting a humbler United States that would not dictate policy preferences or standards to others, or by a misguided belief in the UN system.

A more charitable and Machiavellian analysis would attribute to the Obama administration a form of brinksmanship designed to make the Arab states and African countries come out of the closet. At the very least, they are expected to stick their necks out in supporting active measures against Qaddafi. The Americans don't need a Mahmoud Abbas type gallery, that behind the scenes urges Israel to attack Hamas, and then condemns the action publicly.

Better still, the Arabs could contribute their own forces to the joint effort and optimally, as in the first Gulf War, finance America's military involvement. If we are dealing with the Gulf States, they could be kind enough to push down the price of oil by increasing production. If this is what the Obama administration has in mind, then it will be acting in the mold of Richard Nixon and George Bush senior rather than Jimmy Carter.

The problem with any form of brinksmanship is that one could go over the brink at any moment, and before such a coalition has taken shape, Qaddafi can butcher the population and re-impose control.