WASHINGTON – I wrote yesterday that we have reached the end of the road in Libya, given Western inaction and Gaddafi’s regained military momentum that allowed his forces to retake most of the lost territory in the East. I also said that America’s international prestige and credibility has been hurt by the huge gap between strong language against Gaddafi used by president Barack Obama (“he has got to go”) and the inability to take any action to “make him go”. Menacing words, followed by nothing is not a good formula for reaffirming a Super power international prestige. (President Teddy Roosevelt had it right: ”Speak softly and carry a big stick“. Regrettably here we have it backwards: lots of braggadocio and no stick in sight).
Many dismayed by lack of US leadership
And there is a long list of many influential politicians and opinion writers who have expressed similar dismay at the failure of US leadership. Just look at statements made by Senators Joe Lieberman, (Independent of Connecticut), Lindsey Graham, (Republican of South Carolina), and John McCain from Arizona, the most senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And also read the editorials of The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, coupled with writings by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and judgementsexpressed by David Gergen, respected advisor to many presidents and CNN contributor.
Finally, change of tone in Washington
Well, today, one day later, we see a change in tone by the Obama administration. The US is now fully behind the France-UK-Lebanon, (in representation of the Arab League), UN draft Security Council Resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and apparently much more.
This is good, as far as it goes. The UN Security Council vote scheduled for some time later today, Thursday March 17, may allow the passing of this agenda. But this positive outcome would imply that Russia and China will vote in favor, or at least abstain. Unlikely, but possible.
Still, even if the UN passes the Resolution later today, thus giving a green light to some form of military action against Gaddafi, it is now painfully late, may be too late, as he has almost won; while the rebels are now fighting for their very survival within the last remaining Benghazi stronghold.
The West wasted time
The West, the US in the lead, wasted three precious weeks. Real, tangible support for the Benghazi rebels at the beginning of this insurrection might have shifted the political balance in their favor, while giving tools to the insurrection, this way increasing its momentum.
Indeed, seeing that the international community was solidly with the rebels might have encouraged more Gaddafi people to defect, shortening the conflict and loss of life. Now it is very late. The loyalists who have been shooting fellow Libyans all this time are too compromised. Besides, now they think that they are winning, thus they are less inclined to jump ship.
So late in the game, in order to encourage massive defections from the Gaddafi camp, one would need a massive display of UN backed Western plus Arab League fire power and the credible determination to use it immediately. If the Gaddafi loyalists do not believe that the US, France and Britain, plus assorted Arab nations that may join in, really mean business, then the coalition shall have to fight them all the way to Tripoli. At this stage, “making Gaddafi go” may become a really bloody affair.
All is possible, provided US will to act
All is possible of course. And, as everybody knows, at issue here is not whether the US has the tools. America clearly has superior armed forces. And France and the UK have their own. What has been lacking throughout this crisis is the willingness to lead. May be now president Obama changed his mind. And this would be good.
But it may be too late to help the Libyans and it may be too late to repair the damage to America’s leadership. As I said, I am willing to be surprised. But fixing this mess today is a lot more complicated than just a few weeks ago, when Gaddafi was disoriented and on the defensive.