Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's Not About Libya

France, Britain, and U.S. forces (“The Allies” according to the New York Times, as if we were still in World War II), invaded Libya today or yesterday, establishing a no-fly zone to protect civilians being slaughtered by Qaddafi. The action was authorized by the United Nations (with the BRICs abstaining) and endorsed by the Arab League. The Arab League has now reversed itself, saying, essentially “Mashalla! We didn’t realize it would involve bombs!” But the no-fly has apparently been established, despite Arab racism and/or spinelessness. (Photo: Christian Science Monitor)

The political and military consequences of the attack, in Libya and internationally, remain to be seen. For example, will “The Allies” maintain the no-fly zone indefinitely, with one or two planes being shot down every few months, as was the case in Iraq's no-fly zone? Maybe that’s not too expensive to tolerate. And since Qaddafi is a nut job, you can expect him to violate the intentions of “The Allies” in some way, bringing more grief upon himself and his country. Maybe that is ok too. There is, as usual, no clear exit strategy for impulsive acts.

Why did Obama do it? Why did he urge “regime change” and offer to lead the operation? The man has a friggin’ Nobel Peace prize for God’s sake. I thought he understood more clearly than anyone, that an “optional” war is never justified. What was he thinking?

Sure, he acted like he was dragging his feet, and that the invasion was a “last resort” and a “humanitarian necessity,” blah, blah, blah. And no question that Qaddafi is a bad actor, just as Saddam Hussein was. It was a righteous move, as they say. But the fact is, war is hell, and Obama invoked it, and he didn’t have to do it.

This is yet another U.S. war of choice. And make no mistake, we have committed an act of war. Ask Secretary of defense Gates. Sure, Libyan people were being killed by the brutal government. Terrible thing. But what’s that got to do with the United States Government? People are being killed in Yemen. Should we bomb Yemen now? How about Syria? Things are pretty bad there. Let’s bomb Syria! Bomb Bahrain! How about Venezuala? Hey, lots of people are being killed in Mexico right now by the federal government there…. What’s the rule for bombing the crap out of other countries? There are other ways to deal with problems besides bombs. Obama has got to know that.

Perhaps Obama calculated that he did not want to appear “weak” by standing aside as Quaddafi slaughtered his people with impunity. Bill Clinton took a bad rap in the history books by standing by too long while the slaughter continued in Kosovo and Serbia. Obama did not want to appear “weak.” But I thought Obama was intellectually above that disease: the slavishness to future history that seems to infect every president. Is he already writing his memoir?

Obama has made a huge mistake, one that mocks his Nobel prize, aggravates even further relations with the Arab world, immensely complicates U.S. foreign policy (if there is one), and greatly diminishes the U.S.’s moral standing, and Obama’s personal moral standing. But the man is not stupid. So why did he do it?

What if this is all about Pakistan, and ultimately, getting the troops out of Afghanistan next year? My guess is that Obama's end game is ending both the Iraq and Afghan wars by 2012. This has nothing to do with Libya, or at least, very little. Pakistan, which often seems on the verge of anarchy, is a nuclear power that harbors al Qaeda and the Taliban, who we are fighting in Afghanistan. Why does Pakistan do that? Because leaders there think the U.S. is “weak” and will leave Afghanistan too soon and that the Taliban will take the place over. Pakistan is therefore currying favor with what it assumes to be its future neighbor, the Republic of Taliban. Essentially then, we are in a tacit war with Pakistan. We even bomb them every few weeks, have been doing so for months. Pakistan is the third war we are fighting that nobody talks about.

The Paki’s think the U.S. is weak because they read the papers the same as we all do. They know we are in a recession, that the two overt wars are killing us fiscally, and that those wars have lost whatever popular support they ever had at home, and that Obama (“man of peace”) has vowed to end both wars, and that Obama faces a fierce election in 2012. They know all that, and they also know we are covertly at war with Pakistan. They calculate that the U.S. has neither the nerve nor the resources to force Pakistan to play ball with the U.S. in fighting the Taliban either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan itself. That is Obama’s bind. He is stalemated in the covert war on Pakistan.

Solution? “Send a message” to our nominal allies in the war on terror, the Paki’s, one that will also be heard and seen in Teheran, on the other side of Afghanistan: We still have the will and the way to bring a world of hurt down on you at any time. Do not “misunderestimate.” That, I think, is Obama’s rationale for invading Libya. It’s not about Libya.

Is Obama’s presumed strategy justified and is it smart? There is insufficient information to assess, but we can say, it is extremely risky. We’ll have to wait and see what future historians say!