The fight for Libya

This far into 2011, nothing dominates the headlines quite like the happenings in the Middle East. While mostly staying apart from the violence and protests, after the foray into Libya, the United States has once again inserted itself in the politics of the desert. For my part, I’m in the unusual position of being a liberal who is generally on the side of the military. Admittedly, I think the second invasion of Iraq should never have happened, but Afghanistan was the right thing to do, albeit mishandled, etc., etc. However, the way the United States has handled the situation in Libya will change our policy in the future.

First off, I believe that the United States was right to set up the no-fly zone. The Libyan rebels were calling for one to be enstated, regardless of what country could perform the task. Unfortunately, because of the political process, I’m afraid that we waited too long. While the establishment of the no-fly zone took only a matter of days, the nearly week and a half delay from Washington, NATO and UN decision makers likely cost Libya an easy, or at least one-sided, outcome. During the process, the rebels lost the momentum that would have possibly allowed them to finish their goal of ousting Ghaddafi. Instead, we are left to ponder the country’s future as both sides fight through a stalemate, and wonder what our next move as the United States will be.

This uncertainty is causing Obama to suffer under a blinding spotlight. Republicans who would have supported the cause under Bush have jumped down the president’s throat in an attempt to paint a negative picture. Unfortunately, with all their energies focused on putting the blame on the president, Congress is effectively out of commission on the conflict in Libya. They have nothing to offer the decision making progress.

In fact, they’ve spent so much of their time harassing the president for “future options” and complaining about tax dollars that they’ve neglected the fact that Obama did as he said he would – helping the initial effort under a multi-national coalition and then handing off the reigns as soon as possible to someone else. In fact, for all the crap we’ve given them about being nervous to commit (problems we now face), it’s President Sarkozy and the French who are the current spearhead of the operations in Libya.

However, there is a certain issue with choosing to sit out on Egypt and defend the Libyan rebels. With the cluster of countries in the area that are in disputes, saddled with uprising and violence, the US doctrine becomes very hazy, a message that we should be careful of projecting abroad.

All of a sudden American international policy becomes too much wait-and-see mixed with plenty of pick-and-choose, some weird middle ground between the Monroe doctrine and Truman’s containment plan. As a result, Obama has been criticized for helping Libya (who we have little affiliation with and few vested interests – not even that much oil) instead of looking to help the protests in countries like Syria, currently is strongly sided with Iran and is very anti-Israel and a known supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah. I think there is some truth to the idea, although it is a risk to degrade foreign politics by simply “what’s in it for me” as a short-term rule of engagement.

Unfortunately, with the whole area in near-constant turmoil at this point, which countries we choose to back, and even what reasoning we broadcast becomes incredibly important. The reality of the matter is that while we are constantly monitoring the area, debating back and forth between involvement and non-participation in the Middle East, we are not the biggest player in the area. However, we ourselves are also continuously under watch to see how we lean because it still may determine foreign policy of others.


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