follows that the United States is somehow hypocritical for bombing Libya
but not the other oppressed Islamic nations using violence against its
citizens. The implication of this position is that the choice is either
war everywhere at once, or no war at all; the president appears to have answered it with a policy based on patience and opportunity, one country at a time.
Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak fell
without U.S. meddling or force. When Qaddafi falls, no one can credibly
argue that America was the driving force behind these changes.
strength of the president's policy is also its weakness. By waiting
weeks, and then only after submitting for United Nations approval,
Qaddafi positioned the Libyan chessboard to his liking. He has placed
human shields so as to maximize civilian casualties and capitalize on
the resulting press. He seized and fortified the town of Ajdabiya and
blitzed Benghazi, provisional capital of the interim government.
immediate decapitation strike might have avoided countless civilian
deaths. Now, Qaddafi can play a game of attrition.
No-fly zones are not
bloodless affairs, and are often measured in years rather than months.
Every innocent killed will be daily paraded for cameras. It took the
Arab League less than 24 hours to rescind its support for Operation
Odyssey Dawn. Denunciations will only grow more strident. Without
delicate statesmanship, unstable regimes may balance themselves on the
back of careless Western intervention.
In the interim, however,
protesters elsewhere in the Arab world might be emboldened by the
coalition's willingness to prevent atrocity. There is some cleverness in
striking Libya instead of Bahrain or Yemen, and this cleverness does,
in fact, take U.S. interests into account. U.S. Naval Forces Command is
headquartered in Bahrain, and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet operates from a
base in Juffair, five miles from the capital city. If the ruling House
of Al Khalifa falls, America will have made no enemies by errant
missiles, and may count on a continued military ally in the region.
meanwhile, is the interesting case where the U.S. is already waging a
secret war. As revealed in the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables,
President Saleh is a monster, but he's our monster. In 2009, he told
Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, "I have given you an open
door on terrorism, so I am not responsible." As reported
by Dana Priest of the Washington Post, the U.S. Joint Special
Operations Command is kinetic on the ground and in the air in Yemen,
targeting al-Qaeda agents and suspected terrorists. Just as in Bahrain,
the goal is for the Yemeni regime to change around the U.S. footprint,
but not because of it.
Why Libya? Because the struggling
revolutions elsewhere need time, and Libya buys that time. The winds of
change that swept through Tunisia and Egypt have slowed, and need
invigoration. The departure of Moammar Qaddafi and the dawn of a new
Libya will provide it. President Obama has taken a long view of the Arab
Spring. Change will require patience, and patience is now policy.
Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters