A reader writes:
You should be applauding the way Barack Obama is handling the Libya situation. It is realpolitik in a most self-aware, calculating, interest-driven, human rights driven, cold-blooded form. It's something you claim to want in our foreign policy.
The US is not leading this, and probably won't, ever. That is why Barack Obama is not making a public drive for support. In fact, we were moved toward a no-fly zone by Arab countries largely, and Europe, decisively. When was the last time that happened? Ask yourself why Obama is acting this way.
He does not want to be in front, because he isn't, and he shouldn't be. That is a lesson America has learned, painfully, and which Obama is heeding.
In addition, this is a fluid situation, not an entrenched stalemate onto which American forces will impose an outcome. Locally, there is no fear of Qaddafi anymore, which cannot be said of either Milosevic in Bosnia or Saddam in Iraq, or the Taliban in Afghanistan. And think of the positive outcome that is likely - yes likely - another dictator in the Middle East gone, months after the last one, with minor but real US support for the reformers, and another deadly blow to the Al Qaeda narrative that America hates the Arab street. This is a gamble, a long ball, no doubt. But a smart one, whose payoff could be immediate, and grow more enormous for decades.
My instinct tells me that Obama believes a non-US led (hopefully Arab led) no-fly zone can get rid of another dictator in a region boiling with democratic revolution. That alone would be incredibly positive. What comes after, in a region quickly turning a historic page, is probably worth this calculated risk.
From my reader's email to God's ears. But a couple of things: if this is actually going to be led by the Arab states, where are they? Here's what we have so far:
Diplomats said Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were considering taking a leading role, with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt also considering participating.
Of course, something may be going on behind the headlines. As in:
Egypt's military has begun shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels with Washington's knowledge, U.S. and Libyan rebel officials said. The shipmentsmostly small arms such as assault rifles and ammunitionappear to be the first confirmed case of an outside government arming the rebel fighters.
Alas, this won't be enough. We also know this:
Officials in Britain, France and the United States were all adamant that Arab League forces take part in the military actions and help pay for the operations, and that it not be led by NATO, to avoid the appearance that the West was attacking another Muslim country.
But where are these forces? Who has agreed to pay? And if it's risky for the US or NATO to be seen interfering in Libya, because it looks imperialist, does anyone think the former colonial powers, Britain and France, based in Italy, the country that once controlled Libya, might not be perceived as imperialist before too long?
And one more thing: What if Qaddafi takes Benghazi anyway, despite the intervention? What if we simply create a stalemate which becomes an even deeper and bloodier civil war? Once you start this, it cannot be stopped till either Qaddafi wins in a manner that truly would mean a triumph of despotism against the entire West - or we own the place. But I guess there's no going back now.
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