Libya—America Abdicates Global Leadership in Struggle for Democracy

Today is a sad day for the Observer, as America abdicates its moral leadership in world affairs by adopting the role of mere spectator of the life-and-death struggle for freedom in Libya. Having boldly stated that Qaddafi has to go, President Obama has now taken to the sidelines as Moammar Qaddafi’s murderous regime commits torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in its no-holds-barred battle to retain power.

President Obama, timorous, a prisoner of his own intellectual analytics and lack of prior foreign policy experience, doesn’t take sides when it comes time to act in the struggle for freedom around the world.

It is a sad day not only for the Observer, but also for all of those around the world who believe American foreign policy should be guided by more than 19th century Realpolitik and Staatsräson (Reason of State), for all those who are attracted to the ideals embodied in the American Revolution and America’s two centuries of constitutional government under the rule of law.

For days, the administration has been signaling its unwillingness to act. First, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tilted the scales by weighing in heavily against the approval of a no-fly zone. A day or two ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed the administration’s decision not to act by stating that no action would be taken without United Nations Security Council authorization, which given the well-known Russian and Chinese opposition to any military action, amounted to dismissing the possibility of any forceful action that would stop Qaddafi. Finally, today, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, stated in Congressional testimony that Qaddafi was likely to prevail given his advantages in troops and hardware. It is difficult, to say the least, to understand the logic that could have underlain such a tone-deaf and politically maladroit statement. Perhps it was just inexperience and lack of foreign policy coordination. But it was disastrous in its impact.

Altogether, a most shameful spectacle.

History may well mark the month of March, 2011 as the decisive turning point in America’s leadership in world affairs. America has always been more than a state pursuing its self-interests. That era now seems past, at least under Democratic presidential leadership.

The world will take note. Tyrants will relax. As Qaddafi loudly proclaims, they have nothing to fear from the United States, NATO or the United Nations.

Without American leadership, the world will go adrift. The consequences are likely to be enormous and unpredictable.

Despite its cynical record of dealings with dictatorships in the past, it is now to France, that other beacon of human liberty–since the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the defeat of Fascism in 1945 (made possible only with American help), that advocates of democracy and freedom must look.

If America does not want to be a champion of liberty, at least the French, drawing on their own deep traditions, have a possibility of articulating a clear moral vision that might guide us forward toward achievement of the goals of democracy and the rule of law which so many have fought for, at such great sacrifice, for over 70 years.

One of the saddest vignettes from the last few days has been President Obama’s intellectually arrogant and factually incorrect declaration that most revolutions succeed because they come from within and do not rely on outside help. That would come as quite a surprise to George Washington and the Marquis de la Fayette.

The Trenchant Observer

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3 Comments on "Libya—America Abdicates Global Leadership in Struggle for Democracy"

  1. .Posted by Mar 12th 2011 at 1 14 pm in ……..The positions that different Latin American countries have taken towards Colonel Qaddafi and the crisis in Libya present some interesting connections worth exploring..It is not surprising that Cuba Venezuela and Nicaragua have supported Qaddafis regime despite the severe crisis of legitimacy it is now facing. Qaddafi trained terrorists in Libya including Latin American guerillas such as the Argentinean Montoneros and the Colombian M-19 and maintained strong relations with Carlos the jackal a Venezuelan international terrorist that worked for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine one of the first terrorist organizations funded by Qaddafi …Qaddafi has failed in every single project he tried to carry out.

  2. The hope is that by the time you read this Mr Qaddafi has fallen and Tripoli is sharing the joy of Benghazi to the east where Libya s uprising began. And the fear is that even now Mr Qaddafi will somehow clamber over the bodies littering the streets to seize back the power that has slipped away from him..As the Arab awakening has spread each leader has sought to save his skin by being crueller than the last. Oil and geopolitics matter .Mr Qaddafi is no stranger to brutality and persecution that is how he has kept power for 41 years.

    • I agree with Eric’s post of 1:00am. I was comfortable snrtoppiug the protesters’ call for Mubarak to step down even in the absence of polls showing most Egyptians supported that because I assumed without conclusive evidence that it was what most Egyptians wanted. What little evidence I saw, a poll taken during the protests that showed support for Mubarak and Suleiman together at 37% did point in the direction I expected.Because of the US’ deep involvement in the Egyptian political process, I think the US could have, and to its discredit didn’t, demanded Mubarak to be subject to contested elections well before the protests and during the protests.I’m comfortable snrtoppiug a demand for national politics in Libya to be subject to some popular voting mechanism.The rebel groups in Libya seem to have Western support and that support clearly is not minimizing the loss of life in Libya. If the US conditioned the support it already gives the rebellion on offering a face-saving for Gadaffi and life-saving for Libyan people way out, or way to popular accountability at the national level, that would be a far more morally defensible position than the US has ever taken in the region.It is what I’d do, but not what I’d expect from US leadership.This is a situation very much in flux, where the US is not intervening directly and not necessarily intervening effectively. Another thing about Libya is that compared to Egypt, the outcome of Libya is of very limited strategic importance. Which is why, if it was prone to do so, the US could easily afford to focus on saving lives. Someone is going to sell Libyan oil, however that person was put into power. Gadaffi had actually tamed Libyan policy and made it not actively hostile to the West over the last decade so that there is wide latitude for it to change in either direction without changing anyone’s fundamental strategic considerations. This is unlike Egypt whose potential change can be ground-changing.So I’d like to see the US focus just on minimizing the loss of life, but I don’t expect or even hope to see that happen. Instead, Libyan lives are being sacrificed in part to make Westerners feel like they are not as impotent as they felt when they lost Mubarak, or in Khalilzad’s words That is a horrible principle for which to exacerbate a situation that is killing people.But I do accept that the US places no value at all on the lives of people in the Middle East who are not Jewish. And given that, while I don’t approve, I accept that US policy will be what Khalilzad recommends.Most likely the US will not intervene directly for two reasons, 1) the risk of losing lives the US does care about, US soldiers or pilots who could be shot by Libyan and 2) the prospect that an overt intervention could well strengthen Gadaffi’s position on the ground, by demonstrating that he is defending Libya from a foreign enemy.Similar deterrents are the only important reasons the US has not and will not for the foreseeable future intervene in Iran. I support and applaud all efforts by Iranians to maintain and strengthen these deterrents.

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