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The War in Libya: Question Time #1

   Posted by: Pat   in Uncategorized

The next three days GPP will feature a Q & A covering the ongoing war in Libya. Today will feature questions by FMFP to myself, representing a so-called foreign affairs expert. I am no master of Libyan politics and society, but I will do my best to provide a thoughtful analysis of the war from an American perspective while answering FMFP’s questions.

1. Americans have proven quite resistant to military action based on humanitarian concerns. Whether it’s going after the country that was primarily responsible for 9/11 (Afghanistan), a merciless dictator feeding instability and seeking WMDs in a vital energy-producing region (Iraq), or a mix of all of the above (Somalia), American popular opinion is hard to maintain even with national interests at stake. Thus far President Obama has been practically absent on the US interests at stake in Libya and further, there appears to be no clear game plan, objectives or exit strategy in place. Given this historical and political context, how long do you see President Obama maintaining support for air strikes or even promoting more aggressive military action? How much deference will the American public grant the President before raising these concerns?

“Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners.”

President Obama on Libya, March 18

First off, Americans have proven throughout the past 250 odd years that they are willing to fight and die for their national security, their freedom, and the freedom of others. If a country or group messes with the United States, the Jacksonian streak in our culture rears its head and demands retribution. As of right now, Libya doesn’t fit that description and that is why the Obama administration has to be careful. Qaddafi’s regime has American blood on its hands, spoken ill of our intentions and nature, and is currently violently putting down his own countrymen to secure his dictatorship, but none of these are at a high enough emotional or strategic level that would get a majority of Americans to believe that we must use extensive resources and blood to remove and replace him. This does not mean that a majority of Americans won’t support the implementation of a no-fly zone, which has and will include bombings and missile strikes against Qaddafi forces, nor that they don’t sympathize with the rebels opposed to the brutal and backward Qaddafi regime.

The key here is time, resources, and objectives. The Obama administration clearly plans for this endeavor to be short-lived, or at least the part led by the United States, and does not exert too much pressure on American military resources, but wars hardly ever go as planned. Turning to objectives, President Obama has, as his quote above shows, attempted to justify the US involvement in Libya’s civil war by referring to the humanitarian disaster and warning that the situation could lead to further regional instability that could harm our allies, and therefore, ourselves. But there’s a problem. President Obama said these words on Friday, March 18 (when most Americans are concentrated on other matters) and then went on a trip to Brazil. I did an informal test of the knowledge about the war with some of my co-workers, neighbors, family, etc. and did not find many who knew what the heck was going on and had even less knowledge of why the US was getting involved. Americans will follow a President into war and sustain the effort if he can show them that the fight is worth fighting. President Obama’s lackluster effort engaging the public and explaining our objectives, combined with his poor job propping up  American/NATO efforts in Afghanistan, does not give one great confidence.

2. It’s been just a few days since the U.N. coalition began bombing in Libya and already we are hearing complaints from the Arab League that they only supported a no-fly zone, not aerial bombing. Considered a crucial partner in the campaign and a central element in President Obama’s “world-wide approach,” what is the likelihood of maintaining the Arab League’s support for the mission? What implications will this have on the resolve of the UN and the US particularly?

Good question. The Arab League went from supporter of international intervention in Libya to skeptic in near rapid fashion. The group has voiced concern over civilian casualties caused by the process involved to create a no-fly zone in Libya. This is not unexpected as no one wants to be on the side of innocents being harmed by outsiders, especially if you’re considered the ‘in’ group, but the whole US/France/UK/Arab League/UN mission was to protect the Libyan civilians being crushed by Qaddafi’s forces. There have also been no documented reports of civilian casualties caused by allied bombing, which has been painstakingly made to only harm Qaddafi’s forces. The Arab League’s support is indeed important, and it was probably necessary to get the Obama administration and United Nations Security Council on board (or at least abstaining), but it’s relevancy should not be overstated. As long as the group continues to for the most part support the military intervention and oppose the rule of Qaddafi there should not be any major impact on the ongoing war effort. In fact, calls for the allies to be careful in their military efforts by the Arab League, should not be surprising. They represent those civilians in many ways and obviously do not want to be seen as puppets of the US/UK/France.

Tomorrow, FMFP, a domestic policy junkie, takes the stage and faces questions from yours truly. The last session we will see the views of an ‘Average Joe’.

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