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Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2011

America’s founders gave the powers of Commander in Chief to the President because they knew that war had to be prosecuted with determination, discipline and the national interest foremost in mind. By marked contrast, the use of force against Libya looks like the first war by global committee, with all the limitations and greater risk that entails.

We support the military action, even if it is much belated, and the good news is that the first allied salvos from the air seem to have achieved initial success. They have knocked Gadhafi’s air force out of the battle and stopped his ground forces from advancing further into the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Allied planes have also hit Gadhafi’s armor and troop columns, which ought to give his mercenaries in particular reason to ask if the pay is worth the risk.

But the war’s early prosecution also raises concern about its leadership, its limited means and strategic goals. On none of these have coalition members been clear or unified, starting with President Obama.

It isn’t even clear who is commanding operation Odyssey Dawn. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, wasn’t able to provide a clear answer as he worked the Sunday news circuit. Mr. Obama said on Saturday the U.S. will “contribute our unique capabilities at the front end of the mission”—presumably B-2 bombers and command and control—but he added that the no-fly zone “will be led by our international partners.”

Will that be the French, who said yesterday they have a handful of planes flying over Libya? It won’t be the Qatar air force, which is chipping in four fighters. It isn’t even clear whether the NATO commander will be allowed to lead the mission, though the military alliance is equipped for precisely this kind of effort. The danger here is that if no one is in charge, then no one is accountable for success or failure.

It also isn’t clear what the military and strategic goal of this operation really is. Reuters quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying on Friday that the goal was “Number one: Stop the violence, and number two: We do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gadhafi to leave.”

Yet President Obama offered only the first aim in his statements on Friday and Saturday: “We are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal—specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.” He even suggested that if Gadhafi honors the U.N. demand for a cease fire, then the allies would stop fighting short of ousting him from Tripoli. On Sunday French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe explicitly rejected the goal of ousting Gadhafi.

Gadhafi is weak enough, and Libya is a puny enough military power, that even a limited use of force might lead to his ouster. Perhaps the officers around him will mutiny, though they would also have to defeat the Gadhafi sons who control their own mercenary bands and could be prosecuted for war crimes if they leave Libya.

Certainly Gadhafi showed no sign of retreat Sunday, promising “a long war” and revenge against the U.S., France and the United Kingdom. He already knows, thanks to the limits of U.N. resolution 1973, that he needn’t fear any foreign troops parachuting into Tripoli. He received further encouragement from Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who only a day into the allied bombing denounced civilian casualties and claimed this wasn’t the kind of no-fly zone the Arabs had in mind. Mr. Moussa is running to be president of Egypt, but U.S. military action should never be hostage to such a fair-weather ally.

The danger for the region, and U.S. interests, will be if Gadhafi can exploit divisions on the global war committee and achieve a military stalemate. He could then remain in control of a rump part of Libya and still create mayhem. Even Admiral Mullen conceded that the war could end in a stalemate with Gadhafi staying in power. “Certainly, I recognize that’s a possibility,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It’s hard to know exactly how this turns out.…”

The other problem with war by global committee is that it diminishes the role of the U.S. Congress. As he ran for President in 2008, Mr. Obama made much of his opposition, in contrast to Mrs. Clinton, to the 2002 Iraq war resolution in Congress. Yet so far regarding Libya he has been far more solicitous of the U.N., the Europeans and the Arab League than he has of domestic political consent.

We believe that, as Commander in Chief, Mr. Obama has the authority under the Constitution to order U.S. forces to act as he has in Libya. But as a simple prudential matter, a U.S. President needs to respect and bring along Congressional leaders in support of such action. All the more because members of his own party will be the first to revolt if a stalemate ensues or the TV pictures get ugly. Republicans tend to defer on principle to Presidential war decisions, but Mr. Obama also cannot afford to take them for granted.

The worst offense a Commander in Chief can make is to commit U.S. military force and the credibility that goes with it in half-hearted fashion. Now that he’s taken the U.S. to war against Libya, Mr. Obama needs to make American interests his main priority, and that means ensuring that the result includes a rapid end to the long, brutal rule of Moammar Gadhafi.


Jed Babbin

American Spectator, March 21, 2011


Last weekend, nearly three weeks after Obama declared that terrorist dictator Gaddafi must leave, U.S. and British forces launched more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Libyan targets and—with the French—established a no-fly zone denying Gaddafi’s air forces the ability to kill the rebels still remaining in the eastern city of Benghazi.

But what are we attempting to accomplish in Libya? Obama and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have made it clear that we are not trying to remove Gaddafi and only want to protect Libyan civilians from him. And Obama has said that our commitment will last only for days or weeks. So what is the end state that President Obama’s strategy is designed to achieve?

A quick survey of Obama’s Middle East seems to reveal a region as unstable as it has been since Messrs. Sikes and Picot met to divvy up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in 1916. Looking a bit deeper, we see that Obama’s doctrine is destabilizing the Middle Eastern nations that are at best unreliably aligned with us while our principal enemies—the terror-sponsoring nations such as Iran and Syria—are unaffected by his ministrations.

European liberals and Islamists around the world are rejoicing at President Obama’s decision to renounce leadership and commit American military power in UN-sanctioned action against Gaddafi’s forces. They rejoice because Obama has granted the achievement of their ultimate goal: American foreign policy and the employment of American military power have been subordinated to the whims and caprices of their multilateralism.

Progress since President Obama began his campaign to remake our relationship with the Arab world is measured in these facts: Saudi Arabia managed to crush nascent internal protests and send tanks to Bahrain to prop up the latter’s own little despotism. Libya, Yemen and Tunisia are aflame. Egypt is hanging on the edge, holding a post-revolutionary constitutional referendum and Iraq is caught between Maliki’s strongman ambitions and al-Sadr’s Iran-funded Shiite supremacy. Lebanon’s Hizballah—also Iran-funded and armed—is being used as a deterrent against an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Among the loudest lobbyists for the UN action and U.S. intervention in Libya were the Saudis and the Arab League. Having failed to get the Arab League to take military action on its own—and fearing that Iran was behind the unrest in Bahrain and Libya—the Saudis were calling for quick action by the UN. The Arab League blessed the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya but weren’t willing to provide their own air forces to help.

Obama’s presidency was predicated on the evils of unilateral American action and repairing our broken relations with the Islamic world. But he has now intervened in a Middle Eastern civil war. Yet our Libyan war, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t aimed at our principal enemies—the terror-sponsors in Iran, Syria and—yes, Saudi Arabia—which weren’t the focus of President Bush’s nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan and aren’t now the focus of Obama’s new military action.

The Libyan operation, as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday, is not about protecting American interests. This is about Obama’s desire to subordinate American power to the “international community.” He was maneuvered into this action by the Europeans, the Arab League, and the ladies on his national security team led by Hillary Clinton.

As I’ve written many times, the war the terror-sponsoring nations wage against us can only be won by forcing those nations to cease their support of Islamic terrorism. We have no interest in Libya sufficient to justify the use of American military power. Obama declared that Gaddafi must go, but the mission he assigned doesn’t include removing Gaddafi. Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on the same Sunday morning show that our mission was only to enforce the UN’s decision, protect civilians, and establish safe corridors for humanitarian relief.

How long will we be fighting in Libya? Obama has said it would be days, not weeks. The Bosnia NFZ lasted about three years. The NFZ established over Saddam’s Iraq lasted from 1991 until 2003. There is no strategic goal in Libya, so there is no end point to this operation. If our desire is to protect civilians from Gaddafi and we aren’t going to remove him, we could be there indefinitely.

Bahrain’s despotism is one of our more important allies in the Middle East, the nation where we base our Fifth Fleet. The rebellion against the Bahraini government may well have been created in Iran.

Because Bahrain shares a border with Saudi Arabia and because it feared Iran’s influence there, the Saudis sent about 1,000 troops into Bahrain to help its government defeat the rebels. Whatever the immediate result, the Iranians will not cease their support for revolution in Bahrain and other nations they perceive to be aligned with the West.

Yemen is also on Saudi Arabia’s border but its violent protests have not drawn Saudi intervention. Government forces there have fired on protesters and killed dozens if not hundreds. Yemen is another al-Qaeda nursery but it hasn’t—at least obviously—fallen under Iran’s hegemony. Its threat to Saudi Arabia not being apparent, there is no hint of Saudi intervention.

Egypt’s future is up for grabs. The removal of Hosni Mubarak was largely peaceful thanks to the Egyptian army’s refusal to intervene. Last weekend Egyptians voted on an army-sponsored constitutional referendum to establish limits on presidential power. But the growing influence of the Islamic Brotherhood and other Islamists has terrified the Coptic Christian community. Egypt will not be stabilized for months or years to come, and when it is it may be another Islamist dictatorship and sponsor of terror.

Iraq is suffering increased terrorism on the eve of the last U.S. forces withdrawing. Iraqis have taken to the streets, demonstrating against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and its inability to provide security.… Iraq’s increasing instability probably foreshadows the next violent rebellion in the Middle East. Iran, the historic enemy of Iraq, is eagerly awaiting our final withdrawal this summer. Maliki’s government is not likely to survive the year.

And Lebanon’s Hizballah may wait another year or two to begin yet another war with Israel. Hizballah has been re-armed massively since the last conflict in 2006. Tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel ensure against an Israeli attack against Iran. Israel—under continuous pressure over settlements and suffering brutal murders by Palestinian terrorists—sits on a razor’s edge. It can only avoid devastating attacks by Hizballah if it continues to acquiesce in Iran’s nuclear progress.

Weakness is provocative, as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld is fond of saying. Obama’s doctrine of multilateralism—subordinating American power and interests to the will of other nations—is a profession of weakness to all the terror-sponsoring nations. Across the Middle East, Obama’s doctrine is provoking our enemies to action. What is happening in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Tunisia is only beginning to show its effect.…

 (Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush.)


John Rosenthal

Pajamas Media, March 20, 2011


For weeks as international pressure built against him, Muammar al-Gaddafi insisted again and again that the rebel forces that he was fighting in eastern Libya were linked to al-Qaeda. The mere fact that Gaddafi said it was seemingly enough for virtually all commentators to dismiss the claim out of hand. And in case doubts about the source were not enough, then we had the New York Times to send a reporter to Darnah, one of the eastern Libyan towns at the heart of the supposed Islamist uprising, and to assure us that there was nothing to see there, “move along.”

But the problem is that it is not only Muammar al-Gaddafi who has identified the coastal cities of Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica region as al-Qaeda strongholds. The analysts of the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point have as well. The findings of the latter are based on the so-called Sinjar Records: captured personnel records identifying foreign combatants who joined al-Qaeda in Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. (The full study is available online here. The relevance of the study to the current situation in Libya was first pointed out by Andrew Exum in a blog post here.)

The West Point analysts’ statistical study of the al-Qaeda personnel records comes to the conclusion that one country provided “far more” foreign fighters in per capita terms than any other: namely, Libya. Furthermore, the records show that the “vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast.”

The contributions of two cities in particular stand out. One of these has in the last month become a household name: Benghazi. The second is precisely Darnah: the city in which, according to Libyan government sources, an Islamic emirate was declared when the unrest started in February and that thereby earned a visit from the New York Times to prove that it was not so. Darnah lies to the east of Benghazi, behind the battle lines created by the furthest advance of Libyan government forces prior to the announcement of Thursday’s UN Security Council resolution.

While in Darnah, New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid even spoke with Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi: the man who, according to Libyan government sources, had declared the Islamic emirate. Shadid found al-Hasadi “running Darnah’s defenses.” According to Shadid’s would-be reassuring account of their conversation, al-Hasadi “praises Osama bin Laden’s ‘good points,’ but denounces the 9/11 attacks on the United States.” (One must read backwards from the introduction of al-Hasadi’s name into Shadid’s narrative to realize that these quotes come from him.)

A report from Benghazi in the French daily Le Figaro identifies the same al-Hasadi as the “voice of Libya’s Islamists” and claims that a transitional government could only be formed with his approval. The New York Times—or the Obama administration—might remember that the Osama bin Laden whom al-Hasadi “praises” has declared war on America.

According to the West Point study of the Iraqi Sinjar Records, of the 440 foreign al-Qaeda recruits whose hometowns are known, 21 came from Benghazi. This makes Benghazi the fourth most common hometown listed in the records. Fifty-three of the al-Qaeda recruits came from Darnah. That is the highest total of any of the hometowns listed in the records. The second highest number, 51, came from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, the population of Darnah (80,000) is less than 2% the population of Riyadh. This is to say that in per capita terms more the fifty times more foreign fighters joined al-Qaeda in Iraq from Darnah than from Riyadh. As the authors of the study put it, Darnah contributed “far and away the largest per capita number of fighters.”

It is virtually unthinkable that al-Qaeda and/or the local Libyan affiliate of al-Qaeda (the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are not today involved in the Cyrenaica-based insurrection against the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi. This is even more unthinkable when one considers that the North African branch of al-Qaeda—al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – has declared its support for the rebellion and vowed to do “everything we can” to aid it.…


Niall Ferguson

Newsweek, March 20, 2011


“If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.” Macbeth’s famous line before he kills Duncan came to mind last week, when President Obama belatedly changed his mind about military intervention in Libya. Like Obama, Macbeth fervently hopes that “this blow might be the be-all and the end-all”:

But in these cases … we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.

The president has been more Hamlet than Macbeth since the beginning of the revolutionary crisis that has swept the desert lands of North Africa and the Middle East. To act or not to act? That has been the question. The results of his indecision have been unhappy. Hosni Mubarak, for so long an American ally, has been overthrown in Egypt. Muammar Gaddafi, the erstwhile sponsor of terrorism so foolishly rehabilitated by the West just four years ago, has—until now—lived to fight another day in Libya. Meanwhile, in Bahrain, another insurrection is being quelled with the help of Saudi Arabia—an American ally even more important than Libya.

Obama, a novice in foreign affairs, is a president without a strategy. Once a critic of American military intervention in the Middle East, once a skeptic about the chances of democratizing the region, he now finds himself with a poisoned chalice in each hand. In one there are the dregs of the last administration’s interventions: military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan that he is eager to wind down. In the other is a freshly poured draft of his own making.

Make no mistake. Whatever the wording of the United Nations Security Council resolution, the United States is now at war with the Libyan government, and the aim of this war is the overthrow of Gaddafi. In the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “If you don’t get him out and if you don’t support the opposition and he stays in power, there’s no telling what he will do.” She doubtless remembers more clearly than Obama what happened in Bosnia, when her husband took years to approve effective military intervention. Had she been president, my guess is we’d have taken swifter action. But in this play, she’s Lady Macbeth, urging Obama to get tough.

This was the right thing to do. Was. But it should have been done weeks ago, when it first became clear that Gaddafi, unlike Mubarak, was able and willing to unleash military force against his opponents. Now, with loyalist forces approaching the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, it may well be too late. It certainly seems unlikely that an exclusively aerial intervention in Libya’s civil war can topple the mad dog of Tripoli. And even if it’s still possible to tip the balance in favor of the rebels, then what? When the news of the no-fly zone reached Benghazi last week, it was relayed from mosque loudspeakers, and the crowds responded with cries of “Allahu akbar!” not “God bless America!” Significantly, the rebel spokesman quoted by The New York Times was an imam.

I wish I could believe the National Security Council is now presenting the president with a better set of scenarios than it put on the table when this crisis began in Tunisia. As I’ve said from the outset, a peaceful transition to Western-style democracy in the Arab world is, of all the scenarios, the least probable. The more likely outcomes are (a) 1848-style restorations of the old regimes; (b) a descent into protracted civil wars; (c) Islamist takeovers; (d) a regionwide Sunni-Shiite conflict. By the way, (b), (c), and (d) are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They may be a sequence of events.

Fortune has not smiled on President Obama in the role of hesitant Hamlet. But better luck is the last thing actors expect when they play Macbeth.

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