As with Egypt, American sympathies instinctively side with Libya’s oppositional force as they seek to overthrow the tyrant Qaddafi — and rightfully so. But where U.S. foreign policy is concerned, prudence is in order. This is especially the case considering that the Obama administration has evinced inconsistency and incoherence regarding the Middle East: It vowed not to “meddle” in behalf of Iranian dissidents, while eagerly pushing former U.S. ally Mubarak out. At the start of Egypt’s revolution, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mubarak’s government was secure; a month later, he was toppled; and the administration is misguidedly open to talking with existential enemies, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The issue of oil looms large and is for some the primary impetus for U.S. intervention in Libya. Yet as others have long insisted, perhaps it is time to look at other options, such as drilling in Alaska or in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Because of Qaddafi’s eccentric nature — the man has as many bizarre traits as he does last-name spellings — few people take anything he says seriously. Yet, as top Muslim cleric Qaradawi issues a fatwa to kill Qaddafi, and Obama asks the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia to arm oppositional forces — reminiscent of arming the Taliban against the Soviets (and we know how that turned out) — one hopes that Qaddafi’s insistence that al-Qaeda/Islamists are major actors in the revolt does not turn out to be a classic case of the boy who cried wolf. Islamists and jihadists do have a knack of turning up where least expected and filling power vacuums.
That Qaddafi is an anti-American and tyrannical thug, there is no doubt. Yet, unless the administration has a clear and focused policy on what it wants to accomplish in Libya — one beneficial to all concerned — it may be best to let the Middle East’s latest survival-of-the-fittest installment play out and go from there.
— Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum.