Obama’s gamble in Libya
I believe President Obama was right to take military action over the weekend to relieve the siege of Benghazi. Not doing so would have been a moral failure by the United States.
But President Obama and the coalition working with the United States in Libya have gambled in two significant ways that may come back to haunt them.
First, what is the coalition trying to achieve? Is there an agreed-upon mission?
I argue in more detail in an op-ed in the Boston Globe today that the conflicting U.S. descriptions of what the coalition is trying to do are troubling, to say the least. It is hard to reconcile the U.S. statements over the weekend that this is a limited campaign to protect Libyan civilians when we were, at the same time, bombing Qaddafi’s personal compound.
The United States has intervened in a civil war on behalf of one side. It will now be difficult if not impossible to detach ourselves from the rebel cause. This may complicate and limit our freedom of action as the conflict unfolds.
Second, who are the rebels? Do we have any idea of how they might govern should they topple Qaddafi? Have we met more than a handful of their leaders and thus have even the most rudimentary understanding of their motives, ambitions, and collective ideology, if one exists?
We have to recognize this situation for what it really is — the first time in American history when we have used our military power to prop up and possibly put in power a group of people we literally do not know. This may have been necessitated by the higher priority of blocking Qaddafi, but it is troubling and potentially problematic nonetheless.
See the op-ed for the more nuanced version. I welcome comments. This is a vitally important discussion for the future of U.S. foreign policy. The fuller the debate, the better.