What Libya Means to Military and Foreign Policy

I usually don’t use Red Maryland as a forum to critique the President’s foreign policy, but the situation in Libya of is so gravely concerning that it is something that needs to be addressed.

One of the overwhelming critiques of Barack Obama during the 2008 Presidential campaign was her overwhelming lack of experience when it came to issues regarding foreign policy and military affairs. It was unquestionable that John McCain had far more experience on both issues. Had the campaign remained focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror this would likely have become a major point of contention during the campaign. Of course, with the bottom dropping out of the global economy and the genuflection heaped upon Obama, his lack of credentials in these areas were generally glossed over.

During that time, we have seen a number of minor, albeit inconsequential long-term foreign policy flubs. Between the silly gifts given to Queen Elizabeth to II, the grammatically incorrect button given to the Russians, and bowing to the the royalty, this administration has committed a number of unenforced errors in this area. But ultimately while embarrassing, these errors were of no particular detrimental to US interests.

When the unrest occurred in Egypt is when the Administration began to take policy positions that seemed to put the U.S. in no-man’s land. First the President supported our “ally'” Hosni Mubarak in maintaining control in Egypt. However that position did not stay for long as eventually the Administration reversed course and indicated that Mubarak had to go. It was a curious reversal, particularly considering that the Muslim Brotherhood, no champion of secular freedoms or a freely elected government, was helping to organize these protests and as my colleague Streiff reports is becoming dominant in the new Egyptian order.

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Libya however is an entirely new animal, taking U.S. military and foreign policy down a frightening and dangerous new road. I’m not exercised by the idea of having so few allies joining us in this mission (comically, less than half the number of allies we had in Iraq). And while I find it humorous that we aren’t calling it a war, but a “kinetic military action.” But there are three things that I find extremely troubling about the President’s unilateral decision.

  • Bad Timing: Several weeks ago, it looked like the rebels had Qaddafi on the ropes. It looked like the Libyan government was likely to fall. Yet the Administration took no position on helping the rebels until after tide had turned towards the entrenched regime. During the American revolution, when the Continental Army won the Battle of Saratoga and it became apparently that the Americans might be able to beat the British, the Kingdom of France threw it’s support behind the Americans, keeping the Revolution afloat and having a direct and demonstrable impact on the outcome of the war. We seemed to have either missed the value of that lesson, or we missed our opportunity to put it in action.
  • Lack of Congressional Consultation: Yes, the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. And one could clearly make an argument that the President should have wide discretion in the use of U.S. forces to directly combat or prevent offensive action against the U.S., American citizens or American interests. However, the President instead committed U.S. forces to fight in Africa in a situation that was clearly of no immediate threat or national interest to the United States. Making the President’s own position even more bizarre is that no less authority than former the Vice-President indicated (while as a U.S. Senator) that a President taking any such action like the one the President has already taken should be impeached.
  • Lack of Goals: What is our endgame in Libya? What outcome are we looking for? Are we protecting the rebels? Are we looking for regime change? Are we trying to prevent a situation that allows the flow of refugees into neighboring countries? Does anybody know why we are risking the lives of American forces in Libya right no, because even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged doesn’t seem to know. As Peggy Noonan pointed out on Friday, the President owes us an explanation.

Now in a vacuum, one would think that the U.S. supporting rebels who were fighting the Qaddafi regime in Libya would be something that we would enthusiastically support. Supporting Libyan rebels would be something that would both uphold the Bush Doctrine to support freely elected governments in the Muslim World and in trying to replace and unfriendly regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism.

But of course, the world does not exist in a vacuum and the rebels that we are supporting through the establishment of the no-fly zone are clearly not the guys wearing anything that remotely looks like the white hats. Leaders of the rebel movement have acknowledged that they have fought alongside al-Qaeda against Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Rebel forces are rounding up and possibly massacring sub-Saharan Africans on the presumption that Qaddafi’s mercenaries are non-Libyan and that any sub-Saharan Africans. Now don’t get me wrong, we have propped up a lot of bad regimes in the past in the guise of fighting communism (the Ngô Đình Diệm Government in South Vietnam of course comes to mind) but at no time to my knowledge have we ever taken military action against a hostile regime in order to support rebels who would likely install a regime even more hostile to U.S. interests.

If the President could at all justify, explain, or rationalize any of this, I think that American people might (and I say might) be a little more tolerant and understanding of the military action. But at this point the Administration has been completely incapable of articulating a reason, complete incapable of articulating the interest, and completely incapable of articulating the result that we are desired. Which leaves all of America wondering aloud “what the hell are we doing there?”

And it leaves me wondering about the long-term ramifications on U.S. foreign policy, particularly as it relates to hostile nations perception of our will to respond militarily. The confusion on the U.S. mission and desired outcome in the Libyan fiasco will probably hamstring this Administration on future multilateral endeavors and negotiations, and may make attacking U.S. interests a more viable alternative to those hostile to our nation.

The Libyan affair could have a profound impact on the 2012 Presidential Election as well, which we will explore another time…

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