March 12, 2011


Darkness Falls (Leon Wieseltier, March 11, 2011, New Republic)

Barack Obama’s policy toward the Libyan struggle for freedom is no longer a muddle. It is now a disgrace.

Here is what his administration and its allies have told the world, and the Libyan dictator, and the Libyan rebels, in recent days. The director of national intelligence declared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a chilling example of self-fulfilling prophecy, that “over the longer term Qaddafi will prevail.” The secretary of defense continued to insist that the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya is too much for America to do, and to frighten the public with the warning that it would constitute a military operation, as if all military operations are like all other military operations, and therefore the prelude to the sort of wars that would require us, as he put it in an earlier outburst about Iraq and Afghanistan, to have our heads examined. Of course nobody is suggesting that a single American soldier step foot on Libyan soil: Gates’s exaggeration of the logistics and the implications of a no-fly zone, which the Libyan resistance is begging for, is the purest demagoguery, a way of inhibiting the discussion of what really can be done in this plainly just cause, a revival of Powellism, a cheap slippery slope argument tricked out as a responsible concern about the ladder of escalation. The secretary of state, also on Capitol Hill, insisted that a no-fly zone must have the support of some international authority. “Absent international authorization,” she instructed, “the United States acting alone would be stepping into a situation the consequences of which would be unforeseeable.” Of course the United States, which is after all still the United States, could go and arrange international authorization, as it has sometimes done in the past; but this would require American leadership, and the Obama administration seems to regard American leadership as an early form of American hegemony. It may be, as Clinton said, that the consequences of a no-fly zone would be unforeseeable, but the consequences of the absence of a no-fly zone are entirely foreseeable. They are even seeable. We see them daily, most recently in the massacre at Zawiyah. And in a press briefing prior to the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, the secretary general of the alliance began by intoning that “the whole world is watching” and then announced that “NATO has no intention to intervene in Libya.” He did not grasp the heartless illogic of what he said—though if his remark could be construed as saying that the whole world is watching NATO have no intention to intervene in Libya, there was some truth to it. And he followed with these unforgettable observations: “If these systematic attacks against the Libyan people continue it may amount to a crime against humanity. And many people around the world may be tempted to say let’s do something to prevent this massacre against the Libyan civilian population.” Some of us may indeed be so tempted. But “on the other hand,” Rasmussen continued, “there are a lot of sensitivities in the region as far as foreign military intervention is concerned, or what might be considered a foreign military intervention.” Get it? We will not act to prevent a crime against humanity because by doing so we will offend—who, exactly? Not the Libyans who are clamoring for Western assistance, or the Egyptians who looked to us for unequivocal support in their fight for freedom, or the Iranians who made a similar mistake. No, we will offend only a certain doctrinaire Western notion of what the contemporary Arab world thinks about the West, a notion that the democratic upheavals in the Arab world are making manifestly obsolete. We will offend not their assumptions, but our assumptions about their assumptions. It was no wonder that Gates, when he emerged from the meeting in Brussels, told reporters that whereas NATO planning for the possibility of a no-fly zone would continue, “that’s the extent of it.” We are only planning. Why don’t these people just come right out and tell the Libyan resistance to drink poison? Perhaps they fear that they may then have to provide the poison.

In sum, the situation is ominous. Darkness is descending on the Libyan struggle for freedom, and we are helping to lower it.

So much for that international test we're supposed to pass, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2011 9:01 AM
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