Saturday, March 26, 2011

Obama and Libya

It is interesting watching the media address Obama's handling of the Libya situation. Obama's stated reason for getting the UN resolution that established the "no fly" zone was to prevent a massacre of Libyan citizens, although Obama has also said quite plainly that he would like to see Qaddafi go. The genesis of the desire to prevent a humanitarian disaster was rooted in the Clinton administration's experience in Rwanda. To which I say, fair enough. I have heard pundits kind of smirk and wonder how many people would be killed if Qaddafi crushed this rebellion. In response, I wonder how many people have to die before we decide we should do something.

The other interesting thing is that (again) pundits are eagerly expressing their doubt that the US can a) turn over leadership of this operation to some other country's general and b) that the US will not have the overwhelmingly largest number of fighters and bombers in the operation, and that the US will not send troops to Libya. It is certainly true that while other countries could send a few fighters and/or soldiers to Libya or anywhere else in the world, probably only the US can send major invasion forces and aircraft anywhere, with an almost certain guarantee of being able to win any fight. But we are also the only country who could provide the logistical support for a UN operation made up of troops and/or aircraft from other countries. In other words, when our pundits (and Republicans) ask why the US always has to be the country providing 99% of the troops, this could be our chance to show we don't.

The story in the NYTimes was that Susan Rice and Samantha Power (who has written on genocide) first convinced Hillary Clinton and then the three of them convinced President Obama to work toward the UN resolution and subsequent "no fly" zone and bombing. Rice and Secretary Clinton were both fairly close to the Rwanda situation, which likely left a bad taste in their mouths. This was a chance to rework the limited interventions tried during the Clinton years, to find a formula that produces results without getting Americans killed.

Personally I find myself persuaded by the notion of America as the refueling tanker provider, making it possible for French and English fighters and bombers to operate over Libya. Will this limited intervention succeed in toppling Qaddafi, and if so, will we like his replacements? Those are more complicated questions, but I don't think acceptable answers would be more likely if we committed more American soldiers and/or pilots (see Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq).

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