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What’s Next After Libya?


Since the president has established no clear-cut typology of Middle East unrest as it pertains to his own reaction — e.g., no meddling in Iran, outreach to Syria, pressure on Israel, finger-in-the-wind/so-long to Mubarak and Ali, military force against Qaddafi, silence about Saudi, Bahrain, and Yemeni crack-downs, mum on Jordan, etc. — and since we apparently have lots of reactions, both verbal and military, cannot his NSC and State Department teams come up with something more than an ad hoc policy based on crude guesses that when today’s rebels seem to have a 51 percent chance to win, they deserve our support?

Some suggestions: Why not predicate American support for dissidents and insurgents on the existence of some sort of formal stated aims? That is, before we say we wish rebel group X to throw out dictator Y, we want to see roughly who X is, and what they at least claim they want to do when they take over from Y. That way, we might avoid the embarrassments of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood largely a secular organization with no interest in governance.

We should also recognize that while we have some clout to rid the world of our own authoritarian allies in places like Egypt and Tunisia, these strongmen are not nearly as savage as those in Iran, Libya, and Syria, against whom we have no clout other than military force. In other words, again, cannot we, at least for internal purposes, have some sort of priority list, ranking the savage and the not-so-savage, in order to give some focus to our efforts?

At what point do our statements of “concern” escalate from verbal demands to military force? As it is now, the world understands that the United States offers day by day bottled pieties contingent on the relative chances of an insurgency’s success —  our interest predicated not on our own security, or even what may be better for the proverbial people, but on a crude calculus that we don’t want to be seen by the Arabs and Euros as not supporting winners or backing losers. 

And finally, we are now fully engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. At some point, some not very nice people both in the Middle East and outside it are going to realize that —  in this window of opportunity, given a financially insolvent, militarily overextended, and clueless U.S. — the more provocative they are, the more they are likely to get away with things, given U.S. commitments in three regions. So we’d better plan on deciding in advance what constitutes the next crisis that we must intervene in. A mass slaughter in Iran, an Assad doing another Hama, North Korea shooting a missile into the South? Personally, the loss of probably 20,000 or more Japanese, and the specter of food, power, and water shortages threatening one of our staunchest and best allies, a country that has done much for the world in the last few decades, seems a more pressing concern than using our military forces and national attention to ensure some rebels of unknown status can yank Qaddafi out of Tripoli.

I think long ago we reached the logical end of the foreign policy of “reset” and “As time passes, you start taking it for granted that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama is president of the United States. But we should never take it for granted.” The world is heating up despite, or even because of, Barack Hussein Obama, and if we are not careful we are going to see another 1979, when all the Carter chickens came home to roost all over the globe.


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