The first attack was by the French. Cruise missiles then followed from American warships in the Mediterranean soon to be followed by jets from Qatar and the Emirates all aimed at stopping Muammar Gaddafi's attacks on his own people. It should not be lost on anyone the attacks come on the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the war with Iraq. This time, however, is much different. The United Nations voted to establish a no-fly zone over Libya and approved any means necessary to protect civilian life. President Obama supported the resolution and was immediately criticized by critics for dawdling while Libya burned. These same critics gave no thought when they approved invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but they have the testicular fortitude to attack the President for deliberating too long before coming to the aid of the Libyan people.
The President inherited two disastrous wars and has expanded one while winding the other down. Obama has not been a profile in courage on the Afghan war, escalating the US presence at a time when the Afghan government is rife with corruption, the Taliban is protected by Pakistan and he has no definition of what victory would look like. The Libyan crisis, along with the crises in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain are all his and he appears to want to actually deliberate before he acts. It's a trait his predecessor was incapable of grasping.
Obama's critics say he should have acted more than a week ago. If he had, he would have had to order American military strikes on missile defense systems ringing Tripoli and other cities...attacks on ground forces including tanks, APC's and ground troops, and Libyan civilians would have died along with some American military personnel. He would have opened America to more criticism in the Middle East and the Arab world, accusing America of being the enemy of Islam. Gaddafi would have used the situation to portray himself as another victim of the West's attempt to destroy Islamic countries. Instead, by waiting, Obama moves against Libya with UN support. He also moves with the support of the Arab League, which he did not have one week ago. It was only the last week, as Gaddafi's violence against his own people escalated, the Arab League and the UN were moved to condemn him. It is not an accident both China and Russia abstained rather than veto the resolution. Gaddafi's actions frightened or worried them enough to sit this one out. A week ago, their vetoes would have been automatic. Now, Obama is calling on Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to lead any establishment of a no-fly zone and their jets are expected to patrol along with French and British fighters. All of this is possible, including asking the Arab league to foot the bill, because of the UN resolution and because Obama waited.
Obama still faces some serious complications. He justifies his actions against Libya by claiming the purpose is to protect the right of citizens to peacefully protest and bring about democracy and regime change. In Bahrain and Yemen, two countries that are allies of ours, protesters site those same goals and yet the US does nothing when the governments of both countries use violence to quell protests and the US doesn’t protest the use of Saudi troops to put down protests against the government of Bahrain. The word hypocrisy will be flying fast and furious through the region.
When the Serbs were trying to ethically cleanse the citizens of Kosovo, to prevent them from declaring independence, I was opposed to the use of NATO forces to stop the slaughter. It wasn’t our fight. Then I was sent to report on the conflict and went to Macedonia and Kosovo and saw for myself the untold carnage which had been loosed on the people of Kosovo. I watched women and children and families torn apart and die right in front of me. I changed my mind. I welcomed the intervention of NATO to stop the killing. Soon after they intervened, the Serbian leader capitulated and stopped the attacks. I was wrong. These innocent people needed someone to protect them from a butcher. Gaddafi is also a butcher and his people need protection. He possesses weapons and an air force, which are game changing if not opposed by equal or greater force.
I am not Obama's biggest fan, but it is clear, waiting to get the UN and the Arab League on board...waiting to let events on the ground drive the debate...waiting to give Gaddafi enough rope to hang himself has paid off. If President Bush, or more importantly members of Congress, had waited for the inspectors to do their job and waited to give permission go to war, thousands of Americans would still be alive and hundreds of thousands wouldn’t be wounded, billions of dollars saved and we wouldn’t still be fighting two unnecessary wars. People like David Gergen, John McCain, John Kerry and others who were so wrong about Afghanistan and Iraq are wrong again now. We don’t know the end game yet, but in this case waiting is exactly what we should expect from the commander in chief and letting others take the lead is good politics. Nine years ago, it would have been good politics as well.