President Obama and his National Security team dragged their feet until the very last moment, before they gave support to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 (adopted 17 March 2011), authorizing the use of “all necessary means” to protect civilians in Libya.
See also U.N. Security Council Res. 1970 (26 Feb 2011) – text
Now they are being cute with words, and trying to “spin” the world’s perceptions of who is running the air campaign over Libya.
See General Jack Keane’s revealing reactions to questions on this subject, on the Charlie Rose Program, March 17, 2011
All of the talk about handing off primary responsibility to someone else is far removed from the hard and delicate work of implementing the Security Council’s resolution on the ground through military and other means.
In the long run, no one will care who was in charge of the air campaign if it is successful. By trying to be too clever, Obama has created an unnecessary problem for himself, which only serves to make him look weak and appear disingenuous.
The facts are that Nicholas Sarkozy of France and David Cameron of the United Kingdom moved the White House to reconsider its “hands-off policy” toward establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya. Fittingly, Sarkozy and the French conducted the airstrikes that saved Benghazi from further slaughter on March 20-21, and history will record that fact, to their great honor.
While populations in Arab and other countries may not pay too much attention to who is commanding air operations over Libya, one thing they will observe closely is whether the U.S. government is telling them the truth in a time of war.
Whatever benefit could be gained by letting the French lead the airstrikes on Libya–they seem to be the only ones who were prepared!–has already been won.
Now is the time for the United States–and all of its coalition partners–to present a united front. The leadership on the military side should be collective, whether the commander is American or from another (presumably NATO) country. It really doesn’t matter.
America has absolutely nothing to gain by appearing to distance itself from its own decision, and will appear weak and sow confusion if it tries to do so.
At this precise moment, the Middle East is in great ferment, at a time of great transition, from Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli to Manama and Sana’a. The geotectonic plates of history are moving. It is important to be paying close attention.
When President Obama gets back to Washington from his important but ill-timed trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, he needs to stay in town, stay focused on the Middle East, change some key people on his national security staff, and start acting like the leader of the free world.
The Trenchant Observer
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