THE AMERICAN POLICY AND THE LIBYAN CRISIS: A COMMENT
"The conversation that Eamon and I had about Libya began with the passage of the Security Council Resolution 1973, which provides authority for the international community to take enforcement actions to protect civilians in Libya. The Libyan people have called for international assistance, and this resolution paves the way for that call to be answered. Colonel Qadhafi’s refusal to hear the repeated calls up until now to halt violence against his own people has left us with no other choice but to pursue this course of action. While this resolution is an important step, it is only that – an important step. We and our partners will continue to explore the most effective measures to end this crisis....
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, Libya, the resolution, please. Could you tell us what is the endgame of this resolution? Stop the violence against civilians, stop Qadhafi’s forces, or get him out of office? In other words, should this continue until he is gone? Also, the Libyan Government is saying that they were calling for a ceasefire. What do you think of that? Will you engage with them about that...?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, as to Libya, obviously, the United States is very pleased with yesterday’s vote. It sent a strong message that needs to be heeded. The efforts by the international community to come together to make clear to Colonel Qadhafi that he cannot continue his violence against his own people, he cannot continue to attack those who started out by peacefully demonstrating for changes that are within the right of any human being to do so, and the fact that he now has received not just the message of those of us who have been calling for him to end and the fact that he has lost his legitimacy, but the Arab League and the statement that they called for with respect to the resolution.
Now, we’ve seen press reports of a ceasefire by the Libyan Government. This is a fluid and dynamic situation. We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words. We would have to see actions on the ground. And that is not yet at all clear. We will continue to work with our partners in the international community to press Qadhafi to leave, and to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.
It is important, Jill, that we take this one step at a time. The diplomatic effort that was required to answer questions and create a level of cooperation as represented by the resolution was very intense in the last weeks, and the overwhelming vote by the Security Council, I think, reflects a broad understanding that, number one, stop the violence, and number two, we do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Qadhafi to leave. But let’s take this one step at a time....
QUESTION: Good morning, Madam Secretary. Good morning, Tánaiste. And thank you for having us here again, Madam Secretary. Just on the question our colleague asked there, is anything short of Colonel Qadhafi leaving acceptable. And in the discussions yourself and the Tánaiste had on this matter this morning, did you seek or receive any support from Ireland on what may follow military action, be that troop transport or whatever it may be through Shannon Airport....
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, with respect to Libya, again, I want to take this one step at a time. We don’t know what the final outcome will be. The first and overwhelmingly urgent action is to end the violence, and we have to see a very clear set of decisions that are operationalized on the ground by Qadhafi’s forces to move physically a significant distance away from the east, where they have been pursuing their campaign against the opposition. There will have to be an accounting of what has already occurred. There are many stories, as you know, of massacres, abductions.
Until we can have a better idea of what actually happened, it’s hard to know what the next steps will be. The Secretary General appointed a special representative, a former Jordanian foreign minister. We will obviously want to have the international community involved in any kind of dialogue with the opposition and with the Qadhafi regime. So we just passed this resolution last night, and I think now we’re going to be working to operationalize it. And we’ll see, as I’ve already said, what the next steps will be".
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Remarks with His Excellency Eamon Gilmore, T.D. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland,"
18 March 2011, www.state.gov.
"This situation calls for actions that display American leadership, but the President appears to believe that his words have an almost magical power. He has called for Gaddafi to leave; isn’t that enough? “We are slowly tightening the noose,” the President said on March 11, despite all evidence to the contrary. Actual leadership has been avoided and Secretary Clinton has in fact said we wish to avoid it. “I think it’s very important that this not be a U.S.-led effort,” she explained on March 9th.
What explains this gap between Gaddafi gains on the ground, and the Administration’s continuing inaction and claims of progress?
I can think of only two explanations. First, the President continues to believe that our support for any cause taints it. The best example is his defense of his failure to support the Green Movement in Iran after the June 2009 elections were stolen, on the ground that we might weaken the movement by associating ourselves with it. Similar views were expressed when Egyptians began to rise up against Mubarak. This strikes me as a product of very old, discredited views on the American left, which has long argued that America is hated all over the world, that our intervention only worsens things, and that the use of American power makes the world a worse place. The President contradicted these views in his Nobel lecture, but they seem still to animate U.S. policy.
Second, the President seems unwilling to challenge the unpersuasive and unexplained assertions of the top military officials that such a no-fly zone would be a huge strain on American resources. But there is another view: “This is a pretty easy problem, for crying out loud,” said the former chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Merrill McPeak.“I can’t imagine an easier military problem. If we can’t impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell of a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable….Just flying a few jets across the top of the friendlies would probably be enough to ground the Libyan Air Force, which is the objective….If we can’t do this, what can we do?”
The President appears to be relying on Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, who oppose action, without reaching out for any alternative views– such as might be provided not only by McPeak but by his predecessors and successors in the USAF. Other advisers might be asked to spell out what happens if Gaddafi wins — beats the United States, one might say. The human toll will predictably be enormous, as revenge is taken and future revolts are made impossible. (In fact it is worth reminding the President that the human toll may be so great that he feels intervention is unavoidable. But that intervention will come later and be more difficult, and the failure to prevent mass killing would rightly be laid at his door.) It is plausible to see the Gaddafi regime, which would be clinging to power after Europe, the United States, and the Arab League had turned against it, seeking support from rogue regimes like Venezuela, North Korea, or Iran, engaging again in terrorism, and once again building a nuclear weapons program. Certainly the lesson for other regimes would be that mass violence against your own population pays: don’t compromise, don’t leave, just shoot.
Recently the Administration said we were attempting to measure international support for action on Libya. Such questions have been answered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, but in any event that was the wrong question. The role of the United States is to marshal international support, not measure it. That support is far more likely to be there if we say we have made a decision than if we just say “gee, we don’t know what to think, what do you guys think?” The President spoke with powerful imagery of a “noose” around Gaddafi, but a noose is a physical object, not constructed out of words. It is time for the President to give meaning to the policy he says we have adopted, and substitute action for resolutions, speeches, and press conferences. Or as it was once so memorably put, let’s roll".
Elliott Abrams, "Pressure Points, Libya: About that noose..." The Council of Foreign Relations. 13 March 2011, www.cfr.org.
One does not have to be a neo-conservative of the Elliott Abrams variety to scratch ones head recently over the seemingly American non-policy over the Libyan crisis. An odd mixture of rhetorical support for the Libyan rebels against the Qaddafi regime, and an iron determination to do nothing of substance to assist said rebels as the forces of the Libyan regime slowly and methodically commenced re-conquering the country. The fact that both the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Arab League supported the concept of a 'no-fly'zone, while the American Administration remained strangely silent seemed to speak volumes about the timidity of the American government. Until yesterday, when the American Ambassador to the United Nations surprised everyone by announcing American support for not only a 'no-fly' zone, but even measures (such as potentially air strikes on Qaddafi's forces) beyond that. What explains this rather extraordinary volte-face? I am sure that ardent defenders of the American Administration (exempli gratia, David Sanger of the New York Times), will in a few days time, state that the hesitancy of the American Administration was due to a sort of secret diplomatic cunning (in the non-Hegelian sense of the word), in which by appearing to be a laggard in the move towards of international action on Libya, the USA was able to reap the benefits of 'following' rather than 'leading' the other powers concerned. AKA, a splendid example of the 'multi-laterialism', that the current regime in Washington, DC claims to have as it favored form of diplomacy. The only problem with this defence of American policy in the last two weeks over Libya is that the statements coming out of Washington were of the type, to effectively stop, rather than encourage others, towards action in the crisis. If for example, one were to take at face value, the remarks of the American Defence Secretary, the White House Chief of Staff, and the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, even a very limited type of a 'no-fly' zone was too arduous a policy to be considered by the USA and one presumes everyone else. As far as one can make out, neither the British nor the French policy in favor of military action, was made with consultations with Washington (sub rosa or otherwise), nor was even Washington especially involved in the particulars of the same. Under the circumstances, given all of the evidence available, it would appear that the chief rationale for the change of American policy, was a fear that in the words of yesterday's Financial Times:
"officials have been alarmed by the prospect that Benghazi might fall – which could have reverberations throughout the region, countering the example of Egypt’s revolution, and be seen in the US as a sign of Mr Obama’s cynicism or impotence. In one striking broadside, Anne-Marie Slaughter, until recently head of policy [planning staff] at the state department, tweeted: 'US is defining ‘vital strategic interest’ in terms of oil and geography, not universal values. Wrong call that will come back to haunt us'....But the administration’s seeming last-minute conversion has opened it up to criticism from all sides – from those who called for clear leadership and those who remain wary of ever-growing military intervention" 1.
Not the best of motives or rationales to be used in making a erste-klasse foreign policy. Unfortunately, for the current American Administration, it is only such considerations which governs the formulation of its diplomacy. One can only express fear as to what the future holds in the conduct of American foreign policy based upon the non-policy followed in the case of Libya. Rather akin to watching a monkey handling a Sevres porcelain jar I am afraid.
1. Daniel Dombey, "Washington explains rethinks on no-fly zone," The Financial Times. 17 March 2011, in www.ft.com.