Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Obama's Misguided Libya Policy

by Raymond Ibrahim

President Obama's recent explanation for militarily engaging Libya is yet another example of how U.S. leaders increasingly rationalize their policies by sentimental and idealistic platitudes, rather than reality, the long view, or just plain common sense. As even Obama explained it, not only does his decision to intervene militarily in Libya fail to serve any tangible American interests, it directly serves the interests of the Islamists.

In a speech replete with moralizing, Obama did manage to evoke U.S. "interests"—six times—without even explaining what these are. Instead, we were warned that "our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances [dictatorial oppression, a global phenomenon] would have been a betrayal of who we are." Further, by conflating America's "interests" with its "values"— as Obama did twice in this speech— he revealed that he may be treating the two as synonymous; they are definitely not.

The closest thing to a fuzzy "interest" that Obama posited, was the need to contain Libyan rebels from fleeing to, and disrupting, nearby nations, such as Egypt, a country of "democratic impulses" where "change will inspire us and raise hopes"— as an overly optimistic Obama gushed. While there certainly are liberal, secular elements in Egypt's revolution, increasing evidence—from an Islamist-inclined military, that opens fire on its Christian minority, to the recent referendum which serves the Muslim Brotherhood—indicates that, left to itself, Egypt is poised to look more like Iran than America.

Of course, the Obama administration is not against Islamists rising to power—as long as it is through the "will" of the people. As the Los Angeles Times put it, the administration "supports a role for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist organization, in a reformed Egyptian government." Even in his speech, Obama said the U.S. must support both "the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders" and "governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people." The underlying assumption is that people will always choose liberal, humanitarian forms of governments—a demonstrably false notion, especially in Muslim countries. It was, however, the the people" who brought Khomeini to power in Iran, the people who brought Hamas to the PA territories; and the people who voted Hitler into power -- in just a few examples of what has become known as "one man, one vote, one time." Clearly, not all people have the same "aspirations," despite Obama's assumptions; even if they do, they might not end up with what they had been hoping for.

As for Libya's nebulous opposition, even before Obama decided to support them, the Washington Post reported that "the administration knows little about Libya's well-armed rebels, [and] cannot predict the political system that might replace Qaddafi's bizarre rule." More recent evidence indicates that the U.S. is arming the same jihadists who four years earlier were killing Americans in Iraq.

Yet Obama bypasses all these obstacles by engaging in moral posturing, asserting, for example, that a massacre in eastern Libya's Benghazi, "would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen." Again, no clarification exactly how an intertribal massacre—which happen regularly the world over—is "not in our national interest." Moreover, as Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer soberly reminds us:

Eastern Libya [Benghazi], where the anti-Qaddafi forces are based, is a hotbed of anti-Americanism and jihadist sentiment. A report by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center reveals that during the last few years, more jihadists per capita entered Iraq from Libya than from any other Muslim country—and most of them came from the region that is now spearheading the revolt against Qaddafi.

Perhaps Obama simply sees the rebels as "freedom-fighters"—as a recent Examiner headline phrases it: "U.S. supports Al Qaeda 'freedom fighters' against Qaddafi in Libyan civil war." If so, it might be well to recall that the U.S. has been down this road before, when it supported Afghanistan's "freedom-fighting" mujahidin against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, only for Afghanistan to become a terrorist haven and al-Qaeda's headquarters, making possible the strikes of 9/11.

As opposed to today, however, it was less evident in the 1980s that Islamists would be a global headache; plus, the reason for supporting the mujahidin was less idealistic and more to do with actual U.S. interests: containing the Soviet Union's expansion and influence.

In Obama's Libyan adventure, we know for a fact that Islamist forces are involved; we know for a fact what happens when Islamists assume power—whether the mullahs in Iran, Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, or the Taliban in Afghanistan: they become anti-American, terrorist breeding-grounds. Finally, as Obama explained, no U.S. interests are being served any which way.

Even Obama's humanitarian argument for intervention in Libya is full of holes: if the opposition overthrows Qaddafi, no doubt it will inflict a bloodbath on the western Libyans— inevitable in intertribal warfare. U.S. intervention will be seen as complicit in the killing of western Libyans—and, as usual, used as fodder to incite further anti-Americanism in the region.

Obama's point that, although many people around the world are being oppressed by their governments, "that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what is right," also raises questions. Of all the current global conflicts where innocents are being massacred, couldn't the administration at least narrow it down to helping one of the many groups that does not have al-Qaeda ties and was not killing Americans in Iraq? How about "doing what's right" in Darfur, where countless non-Muslims have been butchered by the Islamist regime in Khartoum for these many years? How about "doing what is right" regarding the persecuted, indigenous Christians of the Islamic world? Although one of Obama's reasons for intervening in Libya was that mosques were unintentionally being destroyed, he has been silent in word and deed about the many churches intentionally being destroyed in the Muslim world.

More ironically, the humanitarian argument is full of holes, such as eastern Libyans possibly massacring western Libyans, or US intervention in Kosovo having given Islamists a toehold in Europe.

If the US must offer one group humanitarian assistance, why not pick one that is not Islamist or connected to al-Qaeda. One is left hoping that, for strategic purposes, Obama is not being fully transparent, but does have concrete U.S. interests in mind—which, of course, is exactly how practically every Arab interprets U.S. intervention.

The final irony is that, while Obama's platitudes may strike a chord with some Americans, they are failing to win the much coveted Arab "hearts-and-minds," two quantities that—as evinced by the Arabic media—are thoroughly cynical, and thus reject the notion that nations ever intervene out of sheer altruism.

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Raymond Ibrahim

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