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 Email Email Share Share Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close

loading...

Libya: About that Noose….

by Elliott Abrams
March 13, 2011

On Saturday the Arab League unanimously called for a no-fly zone over Libya, adding its voice to that of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The no-fly zone will have to come soon unless it will serve mostly to protect the corpses of Libyan opposition fighters. In the last few days, Gaddafi’s forces have reversed the earlier opposition momentum and are using their superior fire power, including air power, to wipe out opposition gains. Unless stopped, in the coming weeks they will wipe out the opposition.

This situation calls for actions that display American leadership, but the president appears to believe that his words have an almost magical power. He has called for Gaddafi to leave; isn’t that enough?  “We are slowly tightening the noose,” the president said on March 11, despite all evidence to the  contrary. Actual leadership has been avoided and Secretary Clinton has in fact said we wish to avoid it.  “I think it’s very important that this not be a U.S.-led effort,” she explained on March 9th.

What explains this gap between Gaddafi gains on the ground, and the administration’s continuing inaction and claims of progress?

I can think of only two explanations. First, the president continues to believe that our support for any cause taints it. The best example is his defense of his failure to support the Green Movement in Iran after the June 2009 elections were stolen, on the ground that we might weaken the movement by associating ourselves with it. Similar views were expressed when Egyptians began to rise up against Mubarak. This strikes me as a product of very old, discredited views on the American left, which has long argued that America is hated all over the world, that our intervention only worsens things, and that the use of American power makes the world a worse place. The president contradicted these views in his Nobel lecture, but they seem still to animate U.S. policy.

Second, the president seems unwilling to challenge the unpersuasive and unexplained assertions of the top military officials that such a no-fly zone would be a huge strain on American resources. But there is another view: “This is a pretty easy problem, for crying out loud,” said the former chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Merrill McPeak. “I can’t imagine an easier military problem. If we can’t impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell of a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable….Just flying a few jets across the top of the friendlies would probably be enough to ground the Libyan Air Force, which is the objective….If we can’t do this, what can we do?”

The president appears to be relying on Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, who oppose action, without reaching out for any alternative views– such as might be provided not only by McPeak but by his predecessors and successors in the USAF. Other advisers might be asked to spell out what happens if Gaddafi wins — beats the United States, one might say. The human toll will predictably be enormous, as revenge is taken and future revolts are made impossible. (In fact it is worth reminding the President that the human toll may be so great that he feels intervention is unavoidable. But that intervention will come later and be more difficult, and the failure to prevent mass killing would rightly be laid at his door.) It is plausible to see the Gaddafi regime, which would be clinging to power after Europe, the United States, and the Arab League had turned against it, seeking support from rogue regimes like Venezuela, North Korea, or Iran, engaging again in terrorism, and once again building a nuclear weapons program. Certainly the lesson for other regimes would be that mass violence against your own population pays: don’t compromise, don’t leave, just shoot.

Recently the administration said we were attempting to measure international support for action on Libya. Such questions have been answered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, but in any event that was the wrong question. The role of the United States is to marshal international support, not measure it. That support is far more likely to be there if we say we have made a decision than if we just say “gee, we don’t know what to think, what do you guys think?” The president spoke with powerful imagery of a “noose” around Gaddafi, but a noose is a physical object, not constructed out of words. It is time for the president to give meaning to the policy he says we have adopted, and substitute action for resolutions, speeches, and press conferences. Or as it was once so memorably put, let’s roll.

Post a Comment 17 Comments

  • Posted by Mark Tully

    I’ve yet to see why the United States should support the opposition. Nobody in the west seems to know what the opposition stands for, but the New York Times and the Economist both seem to be perfectly aware that they’re recruiting child soldiers to fight the government.

  • Posted by Mohammed Adeeb Khayyat

    Decision of “war of choice” this time at this location without an outstanding realialable substitute and not always being able to repeat such decision at different locations with favorable confident outcome will result in structural enhancement of Sunnis future targets to seek support from rogue regimes and parties, even that it might be twisted towards benefits against Shiites in the East but will not last on the long run.

  • Posted by allourblogs

    please check out what we have to say about libya at our blog:

    http://allourblogsblogs.blogspot.com/2011/07/libya-why-this-sucks.html

  • Posted by Home Aquaponics

    My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write with regards to here. Again, awesome blog!

  • Posted by Ailene Rosetta

    I was curious if you ever considered changing the layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?

  • Posted by Michael Wallace

    Heyyy I only wanted to take a moment to say I enjoyed reading your blog.

  • Posted by Maribeth Edmister
  • Posted by Charlena Klaft

    hello there and thanks for your information – I have certainly picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise a few technical issues using this web site, as I experienced to reload the website a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but slow loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and could damage your high quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords.

  • Posted by Rob Summar

    I simply want to say I’m newbie to weblog and truly savored this blog. Most likely I’m going to bookmark your blog post . You absolutely come with fabulous articles and reviews. With thanks for revealing your web-site.

  • Posted by Karena Otukolo

    Thank you for any other informative website. The place else may just I get that type of info written in such a perfect means? I have a mission that I’m simply now operating on, and I’ve been on the look out for such information.

  • Posted by Orpha Westrope

    You made several fine points there. I did a search on the topic and found nearly all people will have the same opinion with your blog.

  • Posted by Alise Kavadias

    Hi my friend! I want to say that this post is awesome, great written and include approximately all vital infos. I would like to look extra posts like this .

  • Posted by hid kit

    of course like your website but you have to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the reality on the other hand I¡¦ll surely come back again.

  • Posted by Carter Maury

    Hi there to every one, for the reason that I am truly keen of reading this web site’s post to be updated regularly. It carries good information.|

  • Posted by www.agencjainteraktywnakrakow.pl

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this blog. I really hope to check out the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own website now ;)

  • Posted by Look At This

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It’s the little changes that produce the largest changes. Thanks for sharing!

  • Posted by click this link here now

    I enjoy reading through an article that can make men and women think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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