Obama calls Libya op­er­a­tion a model suc­cess

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Al­most six months to the day af­ter he com­mit­ted U.S. troops to aid Libya’s rebels, Pres­i­dent Obama on Sept. 20 de­clared his pol­icy a suc­cess and told the United Na­tions its strat­egy of col­lec­tive sanc­tions, mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance saved thou­sands of lives, ousted a bad regime and should serve as a model for fu­ture world hot spots.

“This is how the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should work in the 21st cen­tury, more na­tions bear­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity and costs of meet­ing global chal­lenges,” Mr. Obama said. “In­deed, it is the very pur­pose of this United Na­tions. So ev­ery na­tion rep­re­sented here to­day can take pride in the in­no­cent lives we saved and in help­ing Libyans re­claim their coun­try. It was the right thing to do.”

Even as he was meet­ing at the U.N., though, Mr. Obama’s de­fense sec­re­tary told re­porters he de­ployed more Amer­i­can troops to Tripoli to se­cure U.S. prop­erty; ousted leader Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi taunted the newly in­stalled govern­ment by video­tape; and the coun­try’s tem­po­rary leader, Mustafa Ab­dul Jalil, pres­i­dent of the National Tran­si­tional Coun­cil, said additional hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance would be needed to bol­ster the trou­bled coun­try.

Now the post-mortem eval­u­a­tion of the war be­gins, and an­a­lysts ques­tioned whether Mr. Obama could have acted more force­fully, po­ten­tially speed­ing Col. Gad­hafi’s ouster, and whether the pro­longed fight may have made it tougher to se­cure the regime’s weapons. There are re­ports that anti-air­craft mis­siles have gone miss­ing.

Law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill, mean­while, said they hoped the ex­pe­ri­ence has soured the coun­try on sim­i­lar in­ter­ven­tion in the fu­ture.

“If Pres­i­dent Obama is declar­ing that Libya is a suc­cess, it would serve him well to look back at the chal­lenge that Pres­i­dent Bush faced when he de­clared ‘mis­sion ac­com­plished’ in Iraq,” said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Demo­crat. “I also think that any in­ter­ven­tion­ism model which ig­nores the Con­sti­tu­tion and ig­nores the bud­get re­al­i­ties of the United States is doomed.”

The con­flict claimed the lives of 30,000 Libyans and in­jured 50,000, the tran­si­tion govern­ment said this month. The cost of Amer­i­can ef­forts, mean­while, were slated to to­tal about $1 bil­lion in op­er­a­tions costs and mu­ni­tions.

The U.S. role be­gan March 19 when Amer­i­can planes led a NATO ef­fort to es­tab­lish a nofly zone. Mr. Obama at the time pointed to the call by Arab coun­tries for help, as well as a U.N. man­date to pro­tect civil­ians, as ev­i­dence of the world’s re­solve.

The U.S. even­tu­ally trans- ferred con­trol of the no-fly zone to NATO, though Amer­i­can forces con­tin­ued to pro­vide key ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Six months later, the suc­cess of the mil­i­tary side of the op­er­a­tion is un­ques­tioned in Washington, but the other im­pli­ca­tions are be­ing hotly de­bated.

From the start, mem­bers of Congress ques­tioned the pres­i­dent’s au­thor­ity to com­mit troops with­out seek­ing Congress’ ap­proval, and Mr. Kucinich led a group that sued, ask­ing a court to rule against the

From the start, mem­bers of Congress ques­tioned the pres­i­dent’s au­thor­ity to com­mit troops with­out seek­ing Congress’ ap­proval, and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Demo­crat, led a group that sued, ask­ing a court to rule against the de­ploy­ment. Ef­forts in the House to force him to cur­tail op­er­a­tions failed only be­cause op­po­nents couldn’t agree on how tough to write the lim­i­ta­tions.


Ef­forts in the House to force him to cur­tail op­er­a­tions failed only be­cause op­po­nents couldn’t agree on how tough to write the lim­i­ta­tions.

In the Se­nate, though, many law­mak­ers crit­i­cized him for not mov­ing stren­u­ously enough. The Se­nate was work­ing on a res­o­lu­tion back­ing the pres­i­dent’s de­ploy­ment when the fight over rais­ing the debt limit dis­tracted law­mak­ers and de­railed those ef­forts.

Though the con­gres­sional stale­mate left Mr. Obama with a free hand to pur­sue the war, the pol­i­tics might have cur­tailed some op­tions he other­wise could have pur­sued, said Rep. Mike Rogers, chair­man of the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

“By putting it in that con­text, we lim­ited pretty se­verely some other things and other ca­pa­bil­i­ties we could have brought to bear, to the fight that I ar­gue could have brought it to con­clu­sion sooner, and pro­tected our national se­cu­rity in­ter­ests,” Mr. Rogers, a Michi­gan Repub­li­can, said at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute last week, ar­gu­ing that it could have helped in par­tic­u­lar to se­cure chem­i­cal weapons and anti-air­craft mis­siles in the former govern­ment’s arse­nal.

The State Depart­ment is now de­ploy­ing govern­ment con­trac­tors to help the new Libyan govern­ment track down weapons.

Mr. Obama and his team say there is no Libyan doc­trine that could be ap­plied to other cases, though at the Pen­tagon, De­fense Sec­re­tar y Leon E. Panetta said NATO al­ready has be­gun dis­cussing how the Libya model might in­flu­ence fu­ture op­er­a­tions.

Mr. Obama, speak­ing at a U.N. meet­ing on Libya, fo­cused on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s re­sponse.

“We are for­ever haunted by the atroc­i­ties that we did not pre­vent, and the lives that we did not save. But this time was dif­fer­ent. This time, we, through the United Na­tions, found the courage and the col­lec­tive will to act,” he said.

Danielle Pletka, vice pres­i­dent for for­eign and de­fense pol­icy stud­ies at AEI, said U.S. pol- icy could have been more force­ful at the be­gin­ning, which she said could have sped Col. Gad­hafi’s exit. In­stead, she said Mr. Obama ben­e­fited more from “dumb luck” than a co­her­ent pol­icy.

“The key ques­tion any time you look at a for­eign pol­icy suc­cess or fail­ure is you ask your­self, is this rooted in pol­icy and prin­ci­ple, or is this just dumb luck. And if the an­swer is the lat­ter, that tells you noth­ing about the pres­i­dent, noth­ing about his lead­er­ship and noth­ing about what will hap­pen go­ing for­ward. That’s the prob­lem Obama,” she said.

Law­mak­ers who op­posed the op­er­a­tion al­to­gether said they, too, are con­fused about what sort of prece­dent has been set. Some on both sides have ar­gued, not all of them ap­prov­ingly, that the Libya model could shape U.S. pol­icy to­ward Syria, where pro­test­ers are en­dan­gered by govern­ment forces.

Mr. Kucinich said he’s al­ready seen signs of ex­pan­sion of U.S. pol­icy, point­ing to a de­bate within the ad­min­is­tra­tion over whether Amer­i­can forces can di­rect lethal force at rank-and­file mil­i­tants in places such as Yemen and So­ma­lia, where the U.S. is not at war but where it has an in­ter­est in the out­come of in­ter­nal con­flicts. The de­bate was re­ported two weeks ago in the New York Times.

Mean­while, the court case chal­leng­ing the pres­i­dent’s war pow­ers is still pro­ceed­ing, said Jonathan Tur­ley, the law pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity who is head­ing the le­gal ef­fort.

In the past, courts have dis­missed sim­i­lar law­suits when the un­der­ly­ing con­flict was re­solved, but Mr. Tur­ley said he hopes the judge in this case will let the mat­ter pro­ceed. He said it’s time the courts pro­vide some guid­ance on the is­sue, par­tic­u­larly since the same jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for ac­tion in Libya could be used to in­ter­vene in other places such as Syria.

“We have com­mit­ted to lit­i­gat­ing this ques­tion as long and as far as nec­es­sary to fight for ac­cess to the fed­eral courts,” Mr. Tur­ley said.



Pres­i­dent Obama walks with Libyan National Tran­si­tional Coun­cil leader Mustafa Ab­del Jalil (far left) and oth­ers to a meet­ing about Libya at United Na­tions on Sept. 20.

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