Credit and Blame in Libya

by John Yoo

Qaddafi’s death is a victory for the Libyan people, first and foremost. They have freed themselves from a bizarre dictator who abused his people and the great natural wealth of their land. But it is also an important advance for the U.S. and its allies. They have removed an authoritarian dictator who had launched terrorist attacks against U.S. servicemen and U.S. civilian airliners. He was a threat to destabilize the region and was only convinced to give up his nuclear-weapons programs by the example set by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And I think we should give President Obama at least partial credit for leading American intervention. For very little cost, the U.S. succeeded in removing one of its long-term foes. He properly used the powers of his office to protect our national security and advance American foreign policy goals while Congress did little to nothing. He should receive bipartisan support for a rare success in his foreign policy.

But Obama does not get full credit, I think, because he took so long to intervene. Recall that the U.S. intervened only after the U.N. Security Council approved intervention. Obama chose to wait until Qaddafi had driven the rebels into a last holdout in Benghazi. He chose to restrain our operations along the lines set out by the Security Council, which forbade ground troops. This prolonged the ouster of Qaddafi into a full-blown civil war and resulted in more disintegration of the nation’s institutions than was necessary. To the extent that it is harder to get a new government to stand up and to collect and control Libya’s arms, part of the blame must also go to Obama’s delay because of his undue sensitivity to foreign opinion and the U.N.

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