The Audacity to Act
We are watching in Libya an authoritarian state use the weapons of modern warfare to put down protests which were peaceful, in the beginning, until the force of the state was turned against unarmed people.
President Obama appears to be, once again, suffering from “analysis paralysis”.
One thinks of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, poised to invade Europe at Normandy, receiving bad weather reports that put the mission into grave danger. After delaying the launch of the Allied invasion of Europe for a day, with a slight opening in the weather forecasts, he acted decisively in the face of enormous risks. But he acted.
For a succinct summary of Eisenhower’s decision, see Valerie Hausladen, Professional Destiny.
If it had been Obama making the decision, he would in all likelihood have waited for another couple of weeks of weather reports, during which time the secrecy of the operation might have been compromised.
During the crisis in Afghanistan following the massive fraud in the August, 2009 presidential elections, Obama flinched and allowed a unique opportunity to gain leverage over the corrupt and disloyal Hamid Karzai, through insisting on the constitutional process of performing a proper counting of election results and complying with decisions by the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission in accordance with the law.
Obama temporized, and at that precise moment, the democratic project of the West, including NATO, the UN, and the United States, was abandoned.
It was a fleeting moment of opportunity. As has happened so often in the Afghan war theater, the president called for more analysis, and the opportunity was lost.
Today, with all of the advances of technology, it is as if we are personally witnessing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, or the 1968 Prague Spring, being crushed by Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks and weapons of war, and standing idly by.
But the world has changed since 1956 and 1968. We do not face the risk of nuclear confrontation with the Soviets if we oppose Qaddafi’s military and state security forces as they put down a democratic revolution in Libya. In fact, NATO and the U.S. face a military opponent who in all likelihood would fold if ever confronted by a serious outside military force.
Are we prepared to watch Qaddafi butcher all of those who have risen in rebellion in the name of democracy? How will such a stance affect perceptions of the West in the Middle East, at this decisive moment in the region’s history?
To be sure, we have acted to produce a unanimously-approved Security Council resolution condemning Qadaffi’s military assaults on his population and referring the commission of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court for investigation. The ICC has moved quickly to implement this mandate.
But is this enough?
The challenge for the West, and the entire international community, is to find an effective means to act in Libya which does not at the same time establish a precedent that might create pressures to act to support democratic rebellions in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia.
The establishment of a no-fly zone would be immensely helpful, now.
The massive provision of humanitarian assistance, even within Libya, would be immensely helpful, now.
The provision of gasoline and other fuel to the forces defending Benghazi and other towns in the East, in order to prevent the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes against a civilian population would be immensely helpful, now.
How might these actions be squared with the requirements of international law and the authority of the Security Council to take actions to maintain international peace and security?
The United States and the NATO countries, together with other states, should now openly debate whether the 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing the “Responsibility to Protect” civilian populations against the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity is applicable, in the current circumstances in Libya.
The world has changed since 1956 and 1968. At this moment the United Nations and other international organizations demand that Laurent Gbagbo step down from the presidency of Ivory Coast because he clearly lost free elections to his opponent Alessanne Ouattara.
In deciding what actions to take in Libya, the international community needs to focus like a laser on the spectacle of United Nations forces standing idly by while some 7,000 people were massacred by Serb and Bosnian Serb forces at Srebenice, in Bosnia, on July 11, 2005.
President Obama has written eloquently of “The Audacity of Hope”.
Hundreds of thousands if not millions of Libyans have demonstrated the audacity of hoping for and fighting for a democratic future.
The question now facing President Obama is whether he can move beyond his customary “analysis paralysis” and lead.
Facing the prospect of another Srebrenice, will he move beyond words and demonstrate “the audacity to act”?
The Trenchant Observer
Comments are invited.