Oct 21 2011

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“Puny-lateralism” and the End of Gaddafi

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No Model For Future Conflict

Muammar Gaddafi is dead.

We can all, collectively, breath a sigh of relief.

The end of the dictator concludes a tragic chapter in the history of the Libyan people, and signals the beginning of something that is hopefully better.

The credit for this remarkable turn of events resides wholly with the Libyan people. Had they not risked their lives to take control of their destiny in a broad-based uprising against Gaddafi, nothing that followed would have been possible.

But as Gaddafi turned his army and mercenaries upon his own people with superior fire power and appalling brutality, the rebel victory in the civil war would not have been possible but for the intervention of NATO airpower.

And there the current debate is joined.

In the hours after Gaddafi’s death, official Washington went into over-drive to credit Gaddafi’s demise and the rebel victory to the brilliance of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, and asa compelling contrast to the Bush administration’s costly intervention in Iraq.

This selective, revisionist history must not be allowed to stand.

Indeed, instead of a rush to congratulation, the Obama administration’s course and the American role in the Libyan civil war, should be the source of serious review and necessary future correction.

Ambiguous International War Aims: international intervention in Libya coalesced around UN resolution 1973  in mid-March, which established a “no-fly zone” over Libya with participating members to take “all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack…”

“Humanitarian intervention” almost immediately constituted all out NATO air attacks on Gaddafi command and control facilities – far from anyone who was remotely under threat – as well as coordinated attacks on Gaddafi loyalist fighters.

This was not a no-fly zone akin to that established over Iraq after the Persian Gulf War.  This was an active military intervention aimed at the overthrow of the Libyan government. In the 2000s, it had a different name –  “regime change,” –  but that was never authorized or uttered as a goal, though it was the desired result.

Ambiguous American War Aims:  having oddly made the first mention of the American Libyan intervention by radio from Brazil, President Obama spoke again on March 28th to reinforce American policy and objectives in Libya:

 “the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate [and] to protect civilians…we’ve accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations…that America’s role would be limited; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners…Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners…”

No words about regime change and active combat to overthrow Gaddafi.  No word on how a no-fly zone fit into an overall policy with regard to the future of Libya. And since March, no real word about the nature of US military involvement, which, the President’s words notwithstanding, did not transfer to others as promised.


Right before Gaddafi was captured, his convoy was attacked by a French airplane and an American Predator drone.  This, more than six months after the President had stated that responsibilities for active warfare had been transferred to others.

Ambiguous Authority: in June, President Obama overrode the advice of two of his legal advisers to conclude that he did not need to comply with the War Powers Resolution – a ball and chain on presidential authority since 1973, but still the law of the land-  as US action in Libya did not constitute “hostilities.”

This, despite the use of US drones in direct attacks on Gaddafi forces, and US logistical support to NATO aircraft and intelligence cooperation.

The effort to avoid any legal sanction from the US Congress that would bring legitimacy to the use of force was at odds with the President’s preoccupation with the grant of authority from the United Nations, which the Libyan operation received.

If one finds this a trifling legality, consider the manifold ironies had the US drone strike actually killed Gaddafi, which it very nearly did.

Since the US is not in a state of war with Libya, the American attack would have been an assassination of a head of state in a military operation that had not been officially authorized by the US Congress, where there was no demonstrable clear and present danger to the American homeland to compel such action.

That’s not a morass, that’s a constitutional crisis.

And this is what Team Obama and the mainstream media are holding up as an alternative to Bush policy in Iraq?

President Bush went to the United Nations in September 2002 to lay out the case against the Saddam regime and the UN resolutions the regime was breaking.

President Bush sought a vote in the US Congress in October 2002 for to use force against Iraq in support of those UN resolutions.  That vote was overwhelming in both the House and Senate.

President Bush laid out US war aims clearly, assembled allies for the mission and provided the military forces necessary for  the efficient execution of the US plan. The US match to Baghdad was the fast US ground advance in history, lasting 21 days, and resulting in the end of the Saddam regime.

In comparing the two interventions in terms of legality, policy and purpose, the Obama path fails the tests of clear leadership, popular consent and articulated objectives.

 US participation was half-hearted, disingenuous and amateurish. Indeed, taking credit for the results in Libya only serves to further undermine the Obama administration’s orginal assurances to the American people about the objectives.

If this is the supposed model for the future use of US forces, we are in deep trouble.



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