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Right Turn
Posted at 08:45 AM ET, 03/18/2011

Obama’s Libya dithering ends

The Post reports:

The U.N. Security Council voted Thursday to authorize “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya, and European backers of the resolution said enforcement actions could follow within hours.

The resolution passed 10 to 0 with 5 abstentions. It demands an immediate cease-fire in Libya, “the complete end of violence and all attacks against and abuse of civilians,” and it authorizes the international community to impose a no-fly zone.

The vote took place as the window for action closed in Libya, with forces loyal to leader Moammar Gaddafi advancing toward Benghazi, the rebel headquarters in eastern Libya, and renewing attacks on remaining opposition-held towns in the west. . . . Rapid movement at the United Nations contrasted with continued delays during the past several weeks in formulating an international response to the crisis as Gaddafi launched his counterattack against rebel forces.

This is a welcome and complete reversal by the Obama administration that had for weeks pooh-poohed critics who called for a no-fly zone. The administration ignored Sen. Dick Lugar’s admonitions that military action would cost too much. (One understands now why Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels calls Lugar his “hero.”)

When U.S. forces are to be engaged, most especially in a cause as worthy as ridding Libya and the world of the butcher of Tripoli, the country and elected officials should support the war (and that is what this is).

However, this does not mean that the administration’s meandering course and selected mechanism should escape scrutiny. There are at least three grounds for criticism.

First, by delay the Obama administration removed a more modest measure from our list of options, leaving a choice between war and Gaddafi’s survival. More Libyans have died as a result and our own forces will now undertake a significantly more costly and risky operation. This should be a lesson when it comes to Iran and other aggressors. Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative e-mailed me last night: “The U.N.resolution is a positive step, but it is unfortunate that the administration waited so long to overcome its reluctance to act. Now we need quick action by the U.S. and allied militaries to avert the looming humanitarian catastrophe in Benghazi.” Stephen Yates, a former deputy assistant to the vice president for national security affairs, writes:

The Obama administration has chosen to analyze and consult rather than lead. Opposition forces once knocking on the door of Tripoli are fighting for their lives after being pushed back to their remaining stronghold in Benghazi.

It should not have come to this. After Tunisia in December and Egypt in January, the administration cannot say it was caught off guard by developments in Libya. A full month since brave revolutionaries stood up to challenge eccentric dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and two weeks since President Obama declared that Qaddafi had lost legitimacy and must go, the Obama administration still has no defined objectives or plan of action. The administration hasn’t even extended recognition to the opposition National Council, who at the moment is the only organized political alternative to Qaddafi. Even the French have taken this minimal step.

Long ago the administration should have extended diplomatic recognition to the opposition and taken real action to ensure its ability to survive. There were many missed options short of an Iraq style invasion or even a no-fly zone.

Second, this deference to the U.N. is a troublesome precedent, leaving future presidents with the task of explaining why, when no international consensus exists, America must act on its own. Simply put, is Obama’s position that the U.N. Security Council is the body to authorize military action? Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute responded, “No, and the administration has not prepared either the Congress or the public for military action; they’re chasing events domestically as well as diplomatically and, of course, on the actual battlefield. Now there’s hardly time, although I would be stunned if the military were not prepared.”

Finally, this should expose how absurd is the notion of an “international community.” A “community” implies a collection of actors who have common goals and are concerned with one another’s welfare. Libya’s dictator isn’t part of it. Iran isn’t part of it. Most of the countries on the U.N. Human Rights Council aren’t part of it. And frankly, with five abstentions at the U.N. (Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India), what “international consensus” is there? There is none.

These are issues to be explored and discussed over time. For now, there is a paramount concern: the quickest possible victory over Gaddafi.

By  |  08:45 AM ET, 03/18/2011

 
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