Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Who’s the Superpower? Lessons from Libya

by Elliott Abrams
February 24, 2011

China is sending a warship, among other planes and ships, to evacuate its citizens from Libya. According to the report, “The PLA Navy has just dispatched Xuzhou, a Type 054 Jiangkai-II class missile frigate, from the ongoing seventh PLAN anti-piracy task force deployment off Somalia to steam to Libyan coast to provide support and protection for the ongoing evacuation mission there.”

In recent days, the White House has been saying that the United States had to watch its words and actions because American citizens were at risk in Libya. So instead of acting, we are building a diplomatic coalition. China has taken a different tack: to use power. Instead of biting their tongue, the Chinese appear to be making it clear to the Qaddafi regime that no danger to Chinese workers will be tolerated.

That’s the path the United States should follow as well. As I’ve said elsewhere, we should be making it clear to Qaddafi and his remaining henchmen that the safety of Americans in Libya is their safety; if Americans are attacked or held hostage, they will end up the way Saddam Hussein did. But the use of power will do more than ensure the safety of Americans; it will also help bring Libya’s civil war to a better end. Today there are no doubt many Libyan officials and military officers who are on the fence. They know that a victorious Qaddafi will take vengeance against those who opposed him, so they won’t jump until they are confident he will lose. American power can help them make that decision. We too should be moving ships and planes, and visibly taking the steps that show our own power. The message should be that we want Qaddafi to lose and will help ensure that he does. The sooner we do this, the fewer Libyans will lose their lives to Qaddafi’s murderous machine and the sooner the violence in Libya will end.

It’s depressing that we need to take lessons from Beijing about how to be a world power, but perhaps this will persuade the White House that its reticence is counter-productive. To see what is right and not do it is want of courage, Confucius said. In this situation, with Americans at risk and thousands of Libyans dying, what’s right is a display and utilization of American power.

Post a Comment 10 Comments

  • Posted by Sam

    I disagree completely. China was never in the cross hairs of Gadhafi and so he does not care what happens to chinese citizens. china can flex its muscle all it wants with no repercrussions.

    American citizens on the other hand cannot be made the center of the revolt and we do not want a scorched earth strategy by Gadhafi.

    Whether you accept it or not american citizens in Libya are more valuable to the regime than the Chinese at this point.

    So only a finesse approach would work


  • Posted by jooyoung

    Now I am even more depressed. On top of the argument that America needs to learn from China how to be a superpower (which is one argument), the reason found here is a chines way… thus saidth Confucius (which is another)???

    Confucianism is a national foundation of China, not America. You loose your foundation, you are shaken from the root. That’s what happened in Europe.

  • Posted by mr.unknown

    I find this a very misinterpreted version of the lesson Americans are suppose to learn.

    The PLAN can sail into Libya with impunity precisely because the PRC has consistently used its military power in a restrained manner, and maintained a strict policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. Both Qadhafi and the protesters can trust the PLAN not to do anything other than evacuate PRC citizens.

    Needless to say, given the American tendency for foreign intervention and use of force on the international stage, the US cannot be trusted in a similar manner.

  • Posted by LOL

    US is the Superpower, because US is the most powerful military on Earth, with the most number of carrier battle groups to send to aid their civilians in times of great upheaval in countries like Libya.

    Unforunately for the US, most of these naval carrier groups are too busy posturing in front of Iran, North Korea, and protecting US ‘national interests’ abroad.

  • Posted by david bergstein

    “It’s depressing that we need to take lessons from Beijing about how to be a world power.”

    It’s because China does not launch illegal wars or pre-emptive strikes.

  • Posted by Bin Yu

    In the past few decades, China’s foreign policy has increasingly become “people-focused,” meaning to take care of the wellbeing of its citizens abroad. It cares less, if any, about being a “superpower,” or not. Abrams’ concern reflects more America’s lack of confidence as a superpower than any temptation of China to be another superpower.

    That said, every Chinese knows the last of the 36 ancient strategies: “if nothing you can do, get out,” which is a common sense but is frequently forgotten by the world’s sole superpower.

  • Posted by greg

    The author is twisting China’s action to suit his own position.

    China is NOT flexing its military muscles, which the author is trying to get across. It’s true China sends a frigate nearby Libya, just in case there is a need. Other than that, “the ships and planes” are ships China rents from Greece and Malta to transport the evacuees; the planes are civilian planes (Boeing 777, etc.) from major Chinese airlines. There is no planned military actions, no plan to get into Libya territory. China sent the planes after obtaining the permission form Libya authority.

    It seems that the only thing that some American can think of are force and military threat in such a situation. The US may well have to send some military ships and planes around Libya, just don’t twist what China is doing to justify the US actions.

  • Posted by redsword

    So, till now nobody noticed that Mr. Elliott Abrams’s article maybe intentionally ignored that a couple dozens of other nations has send their warships to Libya to ferry their citizens home? That among those, gunboating diplomacy is only at you-know-who’s agenda.
    (The “you-know-who” party starts with “A”)

  • Posted by HH

    any human group of interests decline in power when stopped exchanging, i.e. importing and exporting new ideas, just like plants stop taking in oxygen and giving out co2. one issue with US is that the power in control , like any one in history, try to oversimply things and make people dumb so they are confined to their own thoughts….it used to be and should be the most libral society on plant focusing on welfare of a human being before the benefits of any political group, it is when people from all different background fighting for what people stand for giving birth to “American”, and the definition died when people are told they are somehow unique and superior just because their nationality….

  • Posted by Jeanne Lillo

    Very efficiently written post. It will be helpful to everyone who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – can’r wait to read more posts.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required