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Thursday, March 31, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

In The Prince, published in 1513, Nico Machiavelli wrote:

one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.

That quote makes me think of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the US-led air war in Libya. Although this is supposed to be a UN sanctioned operation carried out by NATO, it’s actually Barack Obama’s first real war. A bit embarrassing for a guy who just a year or so ago received the Nobel Peace Prize. So, you can’t blame Obama for going in with “limited goals” and much ambivalence. Obama obviously wanted to support the idealism of the “Arab Spring” as it spread from the east, challenging an old-time tyrant like Muammar Ghadaffi. We want to be on the side of what appeared, according to the western press, to be a movement of young Arabs with smartphones who were networking their thirst for democracy and freedom via Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately we didn’t stop to think this might just be another garden-variety, old-world tribal battle, where the forces challenging the bad guy aren’t all that much different from those supporting him. Suddenly, a nutty strong-man whom we tolerated and even cooperated with (in return for Ghadaffi’s 2005 pledge to give up weapons of mass destruction) became our bitter enemy.

It appears to me that our President has placed our nation in an embarrassing position. This war was supposed to be over in days, but after more than a week of our bombs and missiles, the “good guys” don’t appear to be doing all that good. I heard an analyst on NPR today saying that it could take years for the anti-Ghadaffi forces to organize and strengthen to the point where they could march on Tripoli. Despite Mr. Obama’s confident assertions, it does not presently seem like Ghadaffi’s time is up. It looks like our “limited operation” is akin to Machiavelli’s “lighter injuries”, which the enemy will survive in order to avenge. Unless the President is ready to lead us into another expensive long-term invasion and nation-building effort, the US may well have to retreat from Libya with nothing but a new enemy (Ghadaffi) to show for it, and perhaps a strengthening of an old enemy (Al Qaeda).

I hope that I will need to eat my words here, as I am certainly no fan of a killer like Ghadaffi. But Mr Obama appears to have made a bo-bo, a major leadership miscalculation. He let idealism and wishful thinking drown out the tough geopolitical and financial realities. The Libya situation has already messed up the oil markets and has caused gasoline prices to shoot up by at least 70 cents. If Ghadaffi survives in charge of a rump regime in western Libya, with the rebels holding ground in the east, Libya will be unstable for years to come, and the oil markets won’t return to where they were anytime soon. Looks like we are now stuck with oil north of $100 a barrel, and the drag that will place on the fragile, barely recovering world economy. And Al Qaeda may be filtering its way with the rebels, building influence amongst them, perhaps gaining a strong foothold in northern Africa. And Ghadaffi will kill even more Libyans, unless we go in and root him out — thus starting a whole ‘nuther Iraq. Which the American public is not at all in the mood for.

Well, I hope that Mr. Obama gets lucky and Ghadaffi gets disposed somehow, and quickly. Otherwise, this half-way measure appears to have the potential for making things a good bit worse than had we kept to the sidelines and let Ghadaffi shut down the rebellion. Sure, it feels terrible to stand by and watch a bloody slaughter occur (recall Rwanda and Darfur), but a half-way response might only make things worse for everyone. Just as Machiavelli realized almost 600 years ago.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:22 pm      

  1. Jim, I find myself wondering about the power vacuum that will be created when Quaddahfi (sp?) goes (well, if he goes). Then too, I wonder exactly what is happening in Egypt lately. It’s been very quiet there–or maybe it’s that we are simply not getting any news from there.

    I also notice that no matter what president ends up in office, in the end he seems to always do the predictable thing–as this business with Libya and the U.S. is so predictable. And it doesn’t seem to matter which party a president belongs to either. Always the predictable thing.

    There must be something about the bureauracy in Washington that forces the same kind of response response from a president. The “package” may be given it’s own spin, but in the end it always ends up about the same. No president can seem to flout the bureaucracy when it comes right down to it.

    If Quaddahfi goes, there will be 2 countries in the same general geographic with a power vacuum. This could be cause for alarm at who will take over. I tend to agree with you that one of these days the U.S. will wake up with a whole block of Middle Eastern nations taken over by Shariha (sp?) law or some such thing; and we will wonder how it all happened. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — April 1, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

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