How to Rope a Dope

by James Jay Carafano

“President Obama said an international coalition, including the U.S., will take military action against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi if he does not comply with a U.N. resolution aimed at protecting Libyan civilians,” the Washington Post reports. “Obama said Gaddafi has been given ‘ample warning.’”

“Ample warning”? Apparently so: Even before the U.N. resolution passed, the regime in Tripoli said it intended to declare a cease-fire. Qaddafi, who has survived everything from sanctions to air attacks, is no dummy.

In the short term, who wins? Maybe Obama, because he can declare he has stopped the war without firing a shot. That claim would ring pretty hollow, though. If he thought he could do that, why didn’t he do it last week, when Qaddafi was losing? Then the U.S. ran to the Security Council to actually get a resolution that, for all practical purposes, prohibited a no-fly zone. If U.S. officials had moved to stop the fighting last week, they would have done so when Tripoli was on the ropes. Now they’ve created the space for Qaddafi to catch his breath and consolidate power.

Furthermore, what has Obama won? Is the U.S. military going to stick around 24/7/365 to keep Tripoli from whacking the opposition when no one is looking? And what is Obama going to do to keep the bits Qaddafi hasn’t conquered from turning into a new foreign-fighter Disneyland for would-be terrorists and Islamists?

If all goes well with the cease-fire, the White House will have done what the White House does best — divert attention from its inability to exercise decisive leadership. During the Gulf oil spill, Obama failed to get ahead of the most slow-moving crisis in history, yet he largely escaped criticism. In dealing with Iran, Tehran has applied rope-a-dope with sanctions and its nuclear program and the White House still doesn’t get it. Obama “forced” an arms-control treaty on Russia that ensured it would be a strategic nuclear power equal to the U.S. and maintain a 10-to-1 advantage over America in tactical nuclear weapons. The president convinced the Europeans to back a missile-defense program that provides less defense, at higher cost, that will likely appear long after Iran develops a missile and bomb that can smoke a European city. If these are the benefits of the Obama Doctrine, it’s not clear how much good news the U.S. can stand before it loses its superpower status.

There are still grave questions about the president’s leadership over Libya. The passage of the resolution does little to answer them or explain the role the U.S. should play in dealing with this crisis.

James Jay Carafano is deputy director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.