Obama’s Ultimatum

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 6:33 PM

Taki’s Magazine

Washington appears to have fallen into another trap with Obama's move on Libya. Yes, the Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi is a nutcase and a bloodstained dictator, who deserves a merciless kick in the pants and to be bastinadoed within an inch of his life. Putting that self-evident observation aside, the important question remains: does the Washington-enabled armed intervention into Libya make sense?

Patrick Buchanan has argued from the start in Taki's Magazine that military intervention would be a bad idea. On balance, Buchanan is unfortunately correct. Yes, it is unfortunate. It would be nice to see Washington honestly come to the rescue of innocent people who are being shamelessly victimized. The Palestinians would be the obvious place to start.

In the popular imagination, humanitarian intervention highlights the affair. Obama has used it exclusively to justify his policy. Upon his return from South America, Obama addressed the matter in a speech at the National Defense University on March 28th. "...at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action...the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves.... I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action." In international politics, this rationale for intervention into the internal affairs of a sovereign country has come to be known as the "responsibility to protect" or R2P for short.

We are suppose to buy Obama's explanation at face value. We are somehow expected to ignore the gigantic double-standard of White House policy when it comes to the current events in Bahrain. We are obliged to forget Obama's cold-hearted non-reaction to Israel's murderous assault on Gaza Strip during "Operation Cast Lead" in January 2009. We are suppose to overlook Obama's pragmatic stonewalling when faced with the May 2010 unprovoked attack by Israel on the Turkish aid ship the Mavi Marmara, which was bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza. With Obama, we wonder about a lot of things. The man is a careerist first, a humanitarian second.

Just prior to leaving for South America on March 18th, our Peace Prize President proclaimed from the White House his unqualified endorsement of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. Obama then issued a public ultimatum to the regime in Libya. "The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions...these terms are not negotiable....  If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution...the resolution will be enforced through military action." Armed with a UNSC resolution--from which Russia, China  and Germany had abstained--Obama went to war. He turned around and departed for South America. And that was that. 

It should be noted that Team Obama saw no need to get Congressional authorization of any kind before launching airstrikes against another country. Alas, this should not be surprising at this late date. It reflects the reality of the Imperial Presidency. Obama's nonchalance irks the paleoconservative former Presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan and the progressive Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, among a few others. If you think it is an impeachable offense, however, you are living in a dream world. Technically, you would be right. But no one gives a damn.

This sort of cavalier, unilateral action by the White House has been around for a long time, and is therefore condoned. It started with the Spanish-American War of 1898, if not before. The two world wars of the twentieth century were Presidential wars, pure and simple, driven by a private White House agenda kept hidden from Congress and the American people. Declarations of war in 1917 and 1941 by the Congress were legal afterthoughts. The incendiary policies of Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt made war inevitable. In the case of FDR, he deliberately provoked it. 

This general phenomenon is called "liberal interventionism" . It predates the warmongering Neocons, and is taken for granted by the Washington establishment. We've got to improve the world, make it over in our own image, so to speak. All of this would be wonderful, if it were not so hypocritical and ridiculous. At the same time Obama expresses altruistic concern for civilians in Libya, he has personally presided over a greatly expanded campaign of drone attacks in the wilds of Pakistan, outdoing anything perpetrated by Dick Cheney and his sidekick, G.W. Bush.

These attacks have resulted in the massacre of many hundreds, if not thousands, of defenseless civilians. It is called collateral damage. It has made a lot of enemies for America in that part of the world. It has helped destabilize Pakistan and radicalize a sizable portion of its population. Does this make sense?

Who authorized it? In truth, it is just something that evolved organically from the 9/11 attacks, like artificially low interest rates and the resultant Wall Street meltdown of 2008, not to mention "extraordinary rendition". Tellingly, Peace Prize Obama took the time to explain the background and legal justification for his AfPak war policies in his West Point speech of December 1st, 2009. "Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Quaeda and those who harbored them--an authorization that continues to this day." 

To this day. Get the picture? The blanket authorization for war in the Middle East is open-ended, to be determined by the White House as its occupant sees fit. This includes U.S. airstrikes inside Pakistan or anywhere else in the world. No additional authorization is required.  

With Libya, the White House has gone one step further. Obama is utilizing the fig leaf of a non-unanimous UN resolution. He bypasses the U.S. Congress entirely. In sum, it is a precedent for future wars of choice by the executive branch with no oversight whatsoever. Anything goes.

My guess is that the White House is playing catch-up. Blindsided by events in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain, it wants to co-opt the so-called "Arab Spring" going forward. Washington wants to channel and control this spontaneous uprising in the Arab street. Washington gave Mubarak and Gaddafi wholehearted support for years; the former because he was in bed with Israel, the latter because he sat on an ocean of oil. Now these two and others are deemed expendable. They have outlived their usefulness or viability, and are an embarrassment.

As a counter-policy, my message would be, let's first do no harm to the people on the ground, and stop telling lies. Veteran foreign policy observer William Pfaff prudently warned of the Libyan ramifications on March 11th, prior to events careening out of control, "...military intervention is highly destructive. A ‘No-Fly’ zone sounds sensible and prudent, but the United States...does not intervene anywhere without first suppressing all possible defensive threats.... Hence, a NATO or U.S. no-fly zone would be preceded by days if not weeks of systematic bombardment...with much ‘collateral damage’ and many civilian casualties. It is not a humanitarian policy." 

To date, there has already been substantial destruction of infrastructure and much adverse consequences for civilians due to the fighting and bombing. The Libyan economy is in shambles. Foreign corporations and workers have rushed to the exits. Food and medicine are in short supply. We may very well be on the threshold of a humanitarian disaster. What is the plan, in the event Gaddafi, his family and their tribe hunker down? Conservative MP Rory Stewart offers further insights and warnings--"Here we go again"--in the current issue of the London Review of Books.

This past weekend brought a new revelation. I am referring to an informative article in the New York Times concerning French President Nick Sarkozy and the boulevardier "philosopher", Bernard-Henry Lévy. According to this report, it was the joint leadership of these two social climbers which produced the Western intervention in Libya. Although Monsieur BHL is considered to be a charlatan and a jackass by many, that does not rule out the possibility that he could be right on this issue.

The article tells a credible story, heretofore not denied by the principals, that it was the grandstanding Lévy who persuaded the hyperactive Sarkozy who persuaded the smooth-talking, opportunistic Obama to jump into Libya. At bottom, you see, this was a French démarche, with Obama providing the military firepower and the UNSC enabling. 

If so, that's just fine. I mean, I would have been all in favor of letting the French, the Brits and the Italians take care of this problem by themselves. They should have enough firepower, at least when it comes to Libya. The Mediterranean should be considered a European lake, and Libya is a former Italian colony. It is in Europe's backyard, like Palestine. My guess is, however, that Hillary and Barack could not tolerate the idea.

The notion of Europe actually doing something on its own, for a change, was anathema and a threat to the Washington foreign policy establishment. It constituted an affront to Washington's superpower status, if you will. A bad precedent in the aftermath of the Cold War. Team Obama just had to get involved. Their egos demanded it. So here we are. For better or worse. Let's see what happens.

--Copyright 2011 Patrick Foy--

Update I: “Obama’s Libyan Folly”, Aljazeera, April 4th.

Update II: “Johann Hari: We’re not being told the truth about Libya”,

                  The Independent, April 8th.

Update III: “NATO admits deadly airstrike, blames rebels”,

                   McClatchy, April 8th.

Update IV: “Pakistan Tells U.S. to Halt Drones”, Wall Street Journal,

                    April 11th, 2011.