The Obama administration’s insists that its objective in Libya is limited to protecting civilians against Khaddafy’s predations. It also insists that it is not targeting Khaddafy. Obama has said Khaddafy must go, but he argues that financial pressures and sanctions will achieve this result.
A consensus has quickly emerged that taken at face value, this “strategy” is completely incoherent. A brutal dictator like Khaddafy is unlikely to succumb to financial pressure. Depending on an internal coup is also hardly realistic. We hoped for that for years in Iraq, and our hopes were disappointed: hope, of course, is not a strategy. The only way to protect Libyan civilians is to destroy the regime and its ability to resist. This requires a more intense air campaign–and even that may be insufficient (see Iraq I and Iraq II). Killing Khadaffy and most of his command structure is almost certainly a necessary, though not sufficient, condition to achieve the objective Obama and his military commanders have publicly announced.
A half-assed campaign risks a stalemate that will ultimately play to Khaddafy’s advantage. Time, we have learned more than once, is not on our side in these endeavors. The initial fervor lapses, especially when there are setbacks and civilian deaths.
But maybe these statements should not be taken at face value. Perhaps Obama, the French, the British, and others involved are really targeting Khadaffy, but have decided not to acknowledge this objective. Reports that several of Khaddafy’s bunkers have been hit would suggest that the true objective differs from the publicly announced one. The Arab League’s volte face suggests that some of its members perceive that the campaign being carried out goes beyond what they had said they would support.
This alternative would perhaps exonerate Obama of accusations of military and strategic incompetence, but call into question his credibility. This raises the questions: Why would Obama lie? Who is he trying to deceive?
It is unlikely that Obama is trying to deceive the American people, or Congress. I presume that a broad majority in both Congress and the electorate would support a more robust campaign, and one that specifically targets Khaddafy. Even those who are uneasy about getting involved at all (including yours truly, at this late date), would say: if we’re going to do it, do it all the way. And besides, Khaddafy has deserved it for decades. So Obama would likely get more support from Americans and from Congress if he forthrightly declared his intention to change the regime in Libya, and implemented a campaign more likely to achieve that objective.
This leaves only one alternative: Obama et al are lying to the UN, and are going beyond the mandate of the UN resolution, but not admitting it.
Under this alternative, Obama is effectively admitting that the UN imposes unnecessary constraints on the actions of the US and its allies, and provides succor to dictators. That the UN is a problem, not the solution.
I agree. But admitting this, as Obama would be doing if he is in fact deceiving the UN about his true goals, completely explodes the justification for his habitual deference to that body. Why the insistence on UN approval when he recognizes that the conditions for said approval are unacceptable and jeopardize the lives of innocent civilians? Why the genuflection to the UN generally, on this and other matters, if he believes that it is dysfunctional on matters of fundamental importance?
So Obama can’t escape the charge of incoherence by pleading Machiavellian duplicity: if his true goals differ from his stated goals in Libya, and hence he is lying to the UN, his deference to that body on this matter and others is incoherent.
This means that either Obama is being honest about his objectives in Libya, and is pursuing a strategically incoherent course, or he is lying about his objectives in order to circumvent the UN, in which case his broader UN-based, multilateral, deferential foreign policy is incoherent.
And the incoherence is not limited to the US. Russian policy on Libya is also a complete shambles. Putin rages about the air campaign:
“This UN Security Council resolution is without doubt defective and harmful,” Putin said on Monday, after calling it a “medieval call to crusade.”
And Medvedev chastised Putin strongly for these remarks:
By Monday evening disagreement between Putin and Medvedev looked even more evident as the Russian president called Putin’s statement “inadmissible.” “Russia did not exercise [the veto power] for one reason,” Medvedev retorted. “I do not consider this resolution to be wrong. Moreover, I believe that this resolution generally reflects our understanding of what is going on in Libya…It is absolutely inexcusable to use expressions that in effect lead to a clash of civilizations – such as ‘crusades,’ and so on. That is unacceptable,” Medvedev said.
Whoa. When has Medvedev ever said that Putin has uttered something “unacceptable”? That’s a first, as far as I know.
Evidently the division within the Russian government led to its decision to abstain from a vote on the UN resolution authorizing force in Libya.
Although it’s very risky to attempt to read too much meaning into the growls from beneath the Russian carpet, this breach appears more real, more passionate, and less contrived than those that have occurred before; this seems real, rather than Kabuki theater. This bears watching to see whether developments in Libya affect the political dynamic in Russia, or whether the intramural disagreements over Libya policy are a harbinger of intensifying conflict between Putin and Medvedev in the run-up to the elections in December (for the Duma) and next year–for the presidency.