Just a quick heads up to the country about our third war in the Middle East before he flies off to South America. Here’s the transcript. Highlights: No ground troops; no acknowledgment of Qaddafi’s “ceasefire” (which is just as well, since it’s a pathetic and utter fraud); and no word on whether he’ll ask Congress to authorize the mission, as his friend Dick Lugar is urging him to do. Instead, he laid down conditions for Qaddafi to accept. Take ’em or leave ’em:
The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop.
Qadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Adjabiyah, Misurata (ph) and Zawiyah (ph), and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all area.
Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.
Let me be clear: These terms are not negotiable.
Conspicuously missing from that list is any demand for regime change, which Obama was pushing just days ago. If Qaddafi retreats to the western half of the country and turns the lights back on in Benghazi, what then? Mission accomplished? The moment coalition ships leave the Mediterranean, he’ll start rolling eastward. Or is the idea to keep him at bay for a few months while Egyptian arms flow in and the rebels get organized? Unless we plan on destroying his planes on the ground first, there’d better be plenty of anti-aircraft weapons in those shipments.
Another intriguing detail from Obama’s remarks. Who’s leading this mission?
We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone. I have no doubt that the men and women of our military are capable of carrying out this mission. Once more, they have the thanks of a grateful nation and the admiration of the world…
It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies and members of the Arab League have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it.
That makes it sound like the British and French will be doing the actual raids with the U.S. in support, although if that were the case he surely would have elaborated on it in his remarks. What he’s doing here, I take it, is being deliberately ambiguous to suggest a subsidiary role knowing that intervention isn’t polling well among Americans. Whatever he can say to get U.S. fingerprints off the mission will make it not only more popular abroad but here as well. An iron American fist in a velvety European glove!
One more choice bit:
Now, here’s why this matters to us. Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qadhafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue.
The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners.
The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun.
Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.
I’m amazed he threw in the bit about democratic values given that there’s no guarantee that the Libyan rebels will support democracy once they’ve taken care of Qaddafi. It’s a tribal society; it’ll go on being a tribal society when he’s gone, hopefully with some sort of parliament or congress where the tribes can confer, but whether tribal representatives will be elected is anyone’s guess. If democracy doesn’t happen, The One will be eating these words all the way to election day 2012. The part about destabilization is weird too considering that the big gripe among our “friends” in Riyadh is that it’s the White House that’s destabilizing the region by backing revolutionaries over old guard tyrants like Mubarak. In fact, the Journal had a must-read story just yesterday about how upheaval in Egypt and elsewhere is knocking off some of America’s counterterrorism allies and helping to spring dangerous jihadis from prison. If Qaddafi is ousted and Libya melts down and becomes an Afghanistan on the Mediterranean, that’ll be arguably as dangerous for us, our allies, and partners as Qaddafi is. And Obama will hear about that endlessly until election day, too. And rightly so.
He reportedly told his cabinet a few days ago that intervention here is “the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values.” That sounds amazingly Bush-ian, but I’m not sure what it means. Presumably, he thinks a pro-democratic humanitarian mission will so endear us to young Arab reformists that it’ll tilt the revolutionary zeitgeist in the region towards the west and away from the Islamists. Could be, but the Muslim Brotherhood is organizing in Egypt, Iran is angling to exploit the crisis in Bahrain, Hezbollah now effectively controls Lebanon, and god know what is set to emerge in Libya. Even the formerly pro-western powers in the Muslim world, like Turkey, are trending east, not west. Is knocking out Qaddafi and freaking out the Saudis and Jordanians with an emphatic pro-reform stance going to slow that tide?
Watch the clip, because one way or another, these words will matter next year. As I write this, Al Jazeera is reporting that Qaddafi’s troops are still advancing on Benghazi and might be within 50 km. Anecdotal reports claim that the regime is attacking other cities too, and that they’re actually stockpiling corpses to be displayed to the gullible press as victims of coalition bombing once the airstrikes begin. Note to The One: Now that we’re really going ahead with this, hurry up.