A reader writes:
I just looked over last week's Wieseltier and Kristol pieces (remarkably similar in their perspective) and now view them as wrong in their factual assumptions about what the Obama team was up to as well. They charge Obama and Clinton with being weak-willed and slow to move. I think they're right that Obama could have been more resolute in his official remarks. But with what's now come out about the row at the Security Council, it turns out that Wieseltier and Kristol were just wrong on the facts.
Hague and Clinton went aggressively for a military option to enforce the SC decisions, it now appears, and were turned back by Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, who recalled how similar language was used by the US and UK to justify military action in Iraq. It seems the US-UK initiative had to be pared back a bit to avoid a Russian veto, and to preserve unanimity (itself significant--this is the first time a reference of a government to ICC has occurred without a single dissenting vote, for instance).
And as of today the US and UK have both frozen Libyan assets, the largest such freeze ever. It's now plain that the US was guarding its language out of fear that US citizens on the ground would be made to pay, but it was moving very zealously behind the scenes. Note that asset freezes of this sort usually occur when a dictator has been deposed or in war time, not in circumstances like these. I get the strong sense that the US and UK are maneuvering to delegitimize Qaddafi, to recognize the Benghazi authority under the former justice minister as the de facto government, and then to support it in its efforts to consolidate control. They want to do all of this in the deep background--and that's exactly what they SHOULD do. It's the Libyan's revolution and it's their government.
A heavy-handed military intervention à la Kristol/Wieseltier would make the new Libyan government look like a Western cat's paw and thus would delegitimize it. The game at this point is to convince the remaining forces backing Qaddafi that they can surrender and walk away or hang on and face certain defeat, and possible death or transport to the Hague to face war crimes trials. If done well, this will cause Qaddafi's remaining forces to melt away (the mercenaries should already be wondering how they are going to be paid), so the revolution can be consolidated with a minimum of bloodshed.
In retrospect, the Obama/Clinton game is mature, carefully thought through and focused on the long-term consequences of the use of power. The Wieseltier/Kristol game is ill-considered, emotional and places a thoroughly unwarranted emphasis on the deployment of US military power without appreciating the negatives that go with such moves. Put otherwise, the Obama Team has learned some lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Wieseltier/Kristol are prepared to commit the same mistakes, all over again.
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