With the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi seemingly toppled by the rebels, the Obama administration is feeling vindicated in its decision to intervene. But the right can’t decide whether to be happy Gaddafi is gone or miserable that Obama had something to do with it.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, among the earliest voices calling for intervention in Libya, wasted little time in congratulating the rebels and slamming Obama for not intervening earlier:
The end of the Qadaffi regime in Libya is a victory for the Libyan people and for the broader cause of freedom in the Middle East and throughout the world. This achievement was made possible first and foremost by the struggle and sacrifice of countless Libyans, whose courage and perseverance we applaud. We also commend our British, French, and other allies, as well as our Arab partners, especially Qatar and the UAE, for their leadership in this conflict. Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.
McCain and Graham, both of whom had warm personal interactions with Gaddafi in the past, have now gotten exactly what they wanted from the administration’s decision to intervene. But GOP partisanship demands that they not acknowledge the president’s role in assembling the global coalition that aided the rebels. Indeed, with the Republican Party wedded to a contradictory image of the president as foreign policy weakling and iron-fisted domestic dictator, we’re going to see a lot of bizarre rationalizing of what happened in an attempt to preserve this narrative of the Obama presidency.
While the Libyan rebels have earned a moment of celebration, toppling Gaddafi was still the “easy” part, relatively speaking. The “hard” part is the post-conflict transition to a stable government that respects the individual rights of its citizens. The premature celebrations of victory in Iraq in 2003 should be a reminder of this.
The opposition is a diverse group with differing visions for the future of the country, and defeating Gaddafi was what united them. In the aftermath of his defeat, there’s still an open question as to whether or not that coalition can hold together, and whether further violence either between coalition groups or against former regime supporters is on the horizon. The challenge of constructing a democratic society out of the ashes of the former regime will be incredibly difficult, likely more so than getting rid of Gaddafi. So it’s really far too early to declare “mission accomplished.”
But in the short term it’s certainly good news that Gaddafi appears to be on the way out. And it will be comical to watch the right pretend that Obama played no role in what’s happening, though the question of whether Obama has been vindicated seems petty compared to the challenges that the Libyan transitional government will face in the future.
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