I don’t write a lot about foreign policy, simply because I think there are far more intelligent and knowledgeable people out there writing much more cogent analysis, but it’s hard to ignore the reflexive criticism of all things Obama that comes from certain elements of the principled left.
Although I’m no longer surprised that some Americans seem to have a better grasp of events in Libya than reporters, government officials, those with access to military satellites and other international observers on the ground in Libya, it might make their case against WESTERN IMPERIALISM a bit stronger if they could back their assertion that the situation was “trumped up” by the US government.
I think it’s fair to say that Obama overstated the danger–but I’d suggest that was more the result of a lack of clarity about the situation than some grand, Western plot to rule the world. It turns out that moral clarity and perfect vision are much easier in hindsight.
It’s also pretty clear if Obama and NATO had not intervened, the same “principled left” would be accusing the West of discrimination in its disregard for Africa. The truth is that we waited too long in the Balkans and failed to intervene at all in Rwanda—two other situations in which early, decisive intervention would have made the difference. Obama didn’t wait, and as a result, prevented worse harm befalling the Libyan people.
And it was going to be bad, as Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski notes:
[W]e should acknowledge what could be happening in eastern Libya right now had Qaddafi’s forces continued their march. The dozens of burned out tanks, rocket launchers, and missiles bombed at the eleventh hour on the road to Benghazi would have devastated the rebel stronghold if Qaddafi’s forces had been able to unleash them indiscriminately, as they did in other, smaller rebel-held towns, like Zawiyah, Misrata, and Adjabiya. Qaddafi’s long track-record of arresting, torturing, disappearing, and killing his political opponents to maintain control suggests that had he recaptured the east, a similar fate would have awaited those who supported the opposition there.
I don’t celebrate the death of anyone, but it’s hard to feel terribly sad about the fact that the Colonel is no longer in a position which allows him to torture and kill indiscriminately. Eventually, people rise up to take down despots. It’s often ugly, even brutal, but it will happen—and I’d prefer a national security policy which works to prevent those people from being slaughtered.
In the end, the US and NATO did an admirable job. They used a relatively inexpensive mission which gave the rebels breathing room in which they could defend themselves against a despot. And then the people of Libya did the rest. We can’t know what kind of government or future Libya will have, but I think we can be sure that it will be better than the past two generations.
Following eight years of disastrous foreign policy, this was another sign that the Obama administration is simply far more competent when it comes to national security and military issues than the previous administration. In less than three years, he’s overseen the elimination of Osama bin Laden, led the effort towards killing of some of his chief deputies, drawn up firm plans to finally end Bush’s destructive war in Iraq, and done his best to navigate the complex issues of the Arab spring and its aftermath.
Certainly, Obama has made some mistakes and done some things that I absolutely oppose, but it’s hard not to see that his administration moving the US back towards rational national security policy based on both humanitarian need and national interest.