By Brigitte L. Nacos
It is astounding that many of the very Washington politicians that supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq are now criticizing Barack Obama for his decision to involve the U.S. military in the implementation of the UN sanctioned no-fly zone in Libya’s airspace and prevent the massacre of civilians by Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists. After all, the involvement in the Libyan case is negligible compared to the long and costly and unjust Iraq War.
It is even stranger that one of the architects of the Iraq adventure, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, attacks President Obama for not determining the Libya mission before using military forces and risking peoples’ lives. This is the same man who knew full well that the justifications for the Iraq War were carefully manufactured lies and who rejected as unnecessary plans for the post-invasion phase in Iraq and thereby jeopardized the lives of many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
Contrary to Iraq, the Libyan involvement is a humanitarian one. As Nicholas Kristof notes in today’s New York Times, “If not for this intervention, Libyan civilians would be dying on a huge scale.”
While few people inside and outside of Libya would shed tears if Gaddafi and his regime were to fall, nobody can be sure about the opposition and what would await Libyans if the rebels would prevail.
Nor is it certain that the no-fly zone alone will protect civilians in areas now under the control of Gaddafi’s opposition.
Whatever the case, it is now up to France and other Europeans as well as Arabs to take over the lead in the Libyan intervention.
The President has assured from the outset that America’s leading role in establishing the no-fly zone would be short term and that thereafter Europeans and Arabs would patrol the skies over Libya. He must stick to this position. The U.S. cannot afford to be involved for long in yet another military conflict beyond a minor supporting role.
If there is no agreement within NATO to take the lead, the French seem ready to step to the plate. President Nicolas Sarkozy was instrumental in pushing the UN to decide in favor of a no-fly zone. French planes were the first to bombard loyalist tanks moving towards cities held by the opposition and full of civilians.
Today’s editorial in the Times demands that “Mr. Sarkozy needs to step back and let NATO take the lead.” Since NATO members seem not of one mind on this, why shouldn’t the French take the starring role? Yes, Sarkozy and the French government have their own political motives. As the Times’ editorial points out,
“Mr. Sarkozy had his reasons for taking such an aggressive stance on Libya. His government had badly bungled the peaceful democratic revolution in Tunisia by clinging to that country’s brutal and venal dictator. He saw Libya as a chance to recoup French prestige in North Africa, a region France has long considered important to its economy and security. And he jumped at the chance to look like a world leader in the run-up to next year’s hotly contested presidential election.”
So, what? In the past, the French have been reluctant to join military coalitions. It is their turn now, hopefully with increasing Arab support, to lead the intervention in their particular sphere of interest, North Africa.
As an aside, one of the losers in the unfolding chapter of Libya may well be Germany. By not voting for the Security Council resolution in favor of a no-fly zone but rather abstain, the Merkel government acted against EU foreign policy and has probably spoiled Germany’s chance to become a permanent member of the Security Council. But this is a topic that deserves a whole post.