Sunday, March 27, 2011


Almost 12 years ago to the day president Clinton addressed the nation from the Oval Office on national TV to explain the bombing campaign in the Balkans that had started that same day:
Ending this tragedy is a moral imperative. It is also important to America's national interest. Take a look at this map. Kosovo is a small place, but it sits on a major fault line between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, at the meeting place of Islam and both the Western and Orthodox branches of Christianity. To the south are our allies, Greece and Turkey; to the north, our new democratic allies in Central Europe. And all around Kosovo there are other small countries, struggling with their own economic and political challenges-countries that could be overwhelmed by a large, new wave of refugees from Kosovo. All the ingredients for a major war are there: ancient grievances, struggling democracies, and in the center of it all a dictator in Serbia who has done nothing since the Cold War ended but start new wars and pour gasoline on the flames of ethnic and religious division.
People on both sides were skeptical then as well, but he justified it using humanitarian reasons, protecting the power of NATO's promise, and to prevent a possible wider conflict (pointing out this area was the genesis of World War I). There were some things left unsaid, though.

Fast forward to 2011 and the Obama folks and friends have been pointing to the Balkans as a model for our recent kinetic activity in Libya:
Look at the people who reportedly influenced their governments to back a no-fly zone: Samantha Power at the White House, who began her professional career reporting from Bosnia. Bernard-Henri Levy in France, who made a 1994 documentary urging military intervention against Slobodan Milosevic. “Europe’s shameful failure to prevent genocide in the Balkans was a formative experience for a whole generation of British ministers,” explains The Economist. “Some close observers of Balkan suffering now hold key posts in the present-day coalition government.”
Beinart goes on to mention the unspoken strategic goal of shaping eastern Europe and says in Libya the unspoken strategic goal is to be "on the right side of the Arab democracy struggle". That's probably true, assuming the Arab democrats aren't actually proponents of a worldwide caliphate at some point. But there are differences between these conflicts.

As bad as Q'daffy is he wasn't doing anything near what Milosevic was doing in the Balkans. Matter of fact he was 'in his box', largely minding his own business and basking in the glow of the realpolitik victory we'd given him for handing over the nuke program he wasn't supposed to have and admitting culpability for the two civilian air crashes he ordered. The UK was dealing with their wounded pride over al-Megrahi but in return they were going to be rewarded with a huge BP oil deal. All was well.

Then Wiki Leaks came.

Few are making a connection, but most of the uprisings in the Arab world are occurring in places that suffered embarrassing Wiki Leaks. When the revolution finally came to Libya it wasn't surprising for a guy who had long used terrorism to start shooting his way back into power. Maybe one day somebody will uncover whether the leaks were part of a wider plot, but that's a digression.

Certainly the human crisis is similar--an army against citizens--but America doesn't always involve itself in such things. George HW New World Order Bush stood by with the rest of us and watched China put down a revolution while African countries seem to be in an almost constant state of genocide. Nobody moved on Darfur, but it wasn't in anyone's national interest. Obama has said we won't always go kinetic when the civilian bullets fly.

That leaves national interest and fear of a wider conflict as justifications. Clinton at least made a partial national interest argument that leaving Serbia alone might escalate into a European war that would involve NATO, to which the US is a signatory. And he was unambiguous about Milosevic, setting him up as the enemy.

What Slick didn't mention was another likely goal--getting brownie points from the radical Muslims for protecting Muslim countries. In looking back would have been THE reason for involvement. But as history shows we helped but it didn't help, just like it didn't help when we helped the Muslims defeat the Soviets or push Saddam away from Saudi Arabia. Hopefully Barack Hussein isn't expecting a different outcome this time for helping in Libya.

And the national security implications of leaving Q'daffy alone? Obviously a lot of dead civilians with a nut back in his bunker in Tripoli a little more pissed off than before. Apparently the humanitarian toll was one NATO couldn't afford to absorb since it would be seen as coddling the dictator for oil, and that can't happen when leftists are in power! Yes, America certainly owes the thug some payback and he might go back to his old ways should he survive intact, but on the same token allowing an unknown band of revolutionaries--some of whom might have loyalties to bin Laden--take over an oil rich country also affects our national interest.

We'll see how Obama makes the case Monday. Aside from the pretzel logic it'll take to rationalize why this isn't a "dumb war" when it has less of the same ingredients than the one he so brilliantly positioned himself against to win the nomination, he'll need to explain why we're still there after "days"; why he didn't copy Clinton from Kosovo and work with Congress and address the nation first; or whether we'll need to leave a peace-keeping force behind when Gaddafi finally disappears. After all, if this kinetic conflict is like the Balkans we still have troops stationed in Kosovo. Seems like somebody will have to hang around to keep an eye on the rebels and all that oil.

MORE 3/27/11

Judging by this NY Times summary of Gates and Clinton's appearance on "the Sunday Shows" minus Fox News, it appears a doctrine of sorts is emerging but it might not be something Obama can admit to on Monday. Before getting into it let me state for the record, aside from all the partisan gotcha stuff--my general uneasiness with this Libyan kinetic energy stems from the fact that our actions do not seem to be based on national security interests. In my view Afghanistan and Iraq were both in our direct national security interests. The Balkans, when approached from a NATO point of view, was justified in keeping stability in Europe and dealing with the Islamic issue.

So here's how Obama could get me solidly on his side. If we agree that our mortal enemy al Qaeda's long term goal is to overthrow the Arab tinpots and build the caliphate then the west's strategy would have to either be 1) keeping the despots in power, or 2) being on the ground floor of any grassroots rebellions by appearing to help. The obvious wild card is whether these rebels will turn out to be influenced by bin Laden or the Brotherhood, but what other choice do we have after pushing for democracy in the Middle East through Iraq? There's no reason to think we can't have influence in a new government until they push us away.

By stopping Gaddafi the west is sending a message to Assad and other dictators that a similar fate awaits them if they start rolling tanks over their protesters. This leaves us in the drivers seat when the dust settles. If Obama can somehow make this point Monday--and if he really believes it rather than seeing the US military as some kind of UN proxy army--it might be a winner. Framing Libya as a clever way to combat bin Laden using a regional strategy to steer Arab rebels towards democracies rather than Sharias works for me.


Debbie said...

And now Gates is off the reservation. I'm betting he wishes he had left Washington last December like he originally wanted to


A.C. McCloud said...

If Obama comes out Monday and says there WAS an urgent national security issue in play Gates will have to resign, but I don't O will do that.

He's going to make the argument that the real 'good' use of the American military isn't its constitutional duty to protect our country, but to help promote peace and social justice around the world.

The Navy's slogan "a global force for good" seems to fit with that.

Anonymous said...

I am arguing with a good friend who served along with me for 30 years in the Marines; he favors whacking Qaddafi … I do not. I don’t disagree with the notion of whacking that slime; I simply think doing so should be in response to something he did that endangers the American people or our security here at home. Otherwise, we are wasting our most precious resource: American young people.

What people seem to overlook is that since 1991, we have allowed the US military to become rent-a-cops for nations too cowardly to protect their own interests. We have given billions of dollars in military arms and equipment to the Saudis, including sophisticated jet aircraft … and they steadfastly refuse to use those weapons in their own defense, or in protecting their neighbors from a litany of scenarios.

Turkey is no longer an ally of the US; they now align themselves with Iran. Iraq is already moving in that direction. Now we are celebrating “democracy” in Egypt, clamoring for humanity in Libya, and demanding that the despot in Yemen step down. Surely we must be the dumbest people on the planet, and the inside structure of the Moslem Brotherhood must be laughing themselves silly.

Meanwhile, the Arab League has said, “No one mentioned killing Moslems,” and backed away from Obama’s coalition until there were no more targets to bomb. Personally, I don’t see why we should interfere with Moslems killing other Moslems. Before we become giddy about democracy in the Middle East, we need to think about a Saudi Arabia controlled by Shiite radicals rather than Sunni despots. If we don’t like the price of gasoline now …

A.C. McCloud said...

Meanwhile, the Arab League has said, “No one mentioned killing Moslems,” and backed away from Obama’s coalition until there were no more targets to bomb. Personally, I don’t see why we should interfere with Moslems killing other Moslems. Before we become giddy about democracy in the Middle East, we need to think about a Saudi Arabia controlled by Shiite radicals rather than Sunni despots. If we don’t like the price of gasoline now …

What I think we're seeing is the convergence of realpolitik and hopey unicornism--and yes, some of the latter was started by Bushitler. I shared his hope that people everywhere want freedom and self-rule, and that might be the only way to defeat the idea of bin Ladenism, but we ARE talking about the middle east. They have a long history of doing otherwise.

I agree in principle with the Muslims killing Muslims idea--it's what Reagan tried with Iran vs Iraq--but as we saw it doesn't always work out well. I'll give Obummer the benefit if he can take Libya and make a cogent national security/greater middle east argument, but I suspect he will make a "we're a proxy of the UN, and we're fine with it" argument, which will be a fail.

You mention Saudi, which is a huge concern, but what nobody is mentioning is a popular uprising in Israel from the Palestinian majority, fueled by Hizballah, Hamas, and a 'reformed' Syria.