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How the decision was made to press for a No Fly Zone

It was made without the apparent participation of the United States in the early decision making process. From Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meetings in Paris with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday left her European interlocutors with more questions than answers about the Obama administration’s stance on intervention in Libya.

Inside the foreign ministers’ meeting, a loud and contentious debate erupted about whether to move forward with stronger action to halt Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s campaign against the Libyan rebels and the violence being perpetrated against civilians. Britain and France argued for immediate action while Germany and Russia opposed such a move, according to two European diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.

Clinton stayed out of the fray, repeating the administration’s position that all options are on the table but not specifically endorsing any particular step. She also did not voice support for stronger action in the near term, such as a no-fly zone or military aid to the rebels, both diplomats said.

"The way the U.S. acted was to let the Germans and the Russians block everything, which announced for us an alignment with the Germans as far as we are concerned," one of the diplomats told The Cable.

Clinton’s unwillingness to commit the United States to a specific position led many in the room to wonder exactly where the administration stood on the situation in Libya.

"Frankly we are just completely puzzled," the diplomat said. "We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States."

I’m beginning to understand the phrase "above the fray" or "stayed out of the fray" as essentially means refusing to involve or commit to anything much less make a decision. And that’s precisely what happened at the G8 meeting.

What worried diplomats even more was this:

On the same day, Clinton had a short meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which Sarkozy pressed Clinton to come out more forcefully in favor of action in Libya. She declined Sarkozy’s request, according to a government source familiar with the meeting.

Sarkozy told Clinton that "we need action now" and she responded to him, "there are difficulties," the source said, explaining that Clinton was referring to China and Russia’s opposition to intervention at the United Nations. Sarkozy replied that the United States should at least try to overcome the difficulties by leading a strong push at the U.N., but Clinton simply repeated, "There are difficulties."

One diplomat, who supports stronger action in Libya, contended that the United States’ lack of clarity on this issue is only strengthening those who oppose action.

That “lack of clarity” can be translated as a lack of leadership on the issue.  Casting around in the G8 minister’s meeting for some sort of consensus toward action or inaction, both sides looked to the US to commit.  It simply refused to do so.  Whether you support or oppose a NFZ, you have to be concerned that we had no strategy or apparent game plan when we entered that meeting.

Hillary Clinton tries to spin it as it being a matter of venue:

In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday in Cairo, Clinton pointed to the U.N. Security Council as the proper venue for any decision to be made and she pushed back at the contention by the British and the French that the U.S. was dragging its feet.

"I don’t think that is fair.  I think, based on my conversations in Paris with the G-8 ministers, which, of course, included those two countries, I think we all agree that given the Arab League statement, it was time to move to the Security Council to see what was possible," Clinton said.  I don’t want to prejudge it because countries are still very concerned about it.  And I know how anxious the British and the French and the Lebanese are, and they have taken a big step in presenting something.  But we want to get something that will do what needs to be done and can be passed."

"It won’t do us any good to consult, negotiate, and then have something vetoed or not have enough votes to pass it," Clinton added.

But that is patent nonsense.  You had most of the movers and shakers there.  In fact, it was the prefect venue to get preliminary negotiations underway, make a case one way or the other and then use the UN as the final place to seal the deal.  Diplomacy 101.

Now, this is important – note the day the BBC interview was done: Wednesday.  Note the day the G8 meeting was: Monday. 

So what happened Tuesday?

Ah, glad you asked.

At the start of this week, the consensus around Washington was that military action against Libya was not in the cards. However, in the last several days, the White House completely altered its stance and successfully pushed for the authorization for military intervention against Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. What changed?

The key decision was made by President Barack Obama himself at a Tuesday evening senior-level meeting at the White House, which was described by two administration officials as "extremely contentious." Inside that meeting, officials presented arguments both for and against attacking Libya. Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists. His overall thinking was described to a group of experts who had been called to the White House to discuss the crisis in Libya only days earlier.

"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.

You may be saying, “wohoo, he finally made a freakin’ decision”.  Well yeah, he could see how it was going and he could see where it would probably end up, so you have to wonder, was it a decision or was it more of a rationalization?

My guess it was the latter.  And it is the third “strategy” for the region that the US has displayed in as many months.

But Obama’s stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention – instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.

"In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook," said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one."

Bingo – Clemons is dead on the money.  There is no well thought out strategy for the Middle East – this is just someone winging it, figuring out where world (or regional opinion lies) and giving himself enough space for deniability should something go wrong.  The cool kids in the world want to bomb Libya, so hey, we should probably do it too now that they’re committed – but we shouldn’t be seen as leading it in case it turns out badly”.

The rationalization for backing the action comes from the realization that it is probably going to happen, and unlike the US, France and the UK aren’t going to let Russia and Germany decide it for them without ever engaging in a fight. 

So we now trot out our 3rd “realignment” of “our interests and values”?  Really? Pray what are they?  And what were they?

Clemons point about the fact that this points to a reactive presidency shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It’s part of leadership, or lack thereof.  Leaders have a strategy and a plan.  You may not like it, but they have one.   And since it has to do with foreign affairs, it should address the best interests of the US.  Three different strategies driven by who knows what in a three month period does not argue for a comprehensive or coherent strategy, much less a plan.

This is the ultimate in finger in the wind diplomacy and another in a long line of indicators highlighting the dangerous lack of leadership under which this country is now suffering.



25 Responses to How the decision was made to press for a No Fly Zone

  • What we get when we hire a community organizer as leader of the only world superpower.
    All too predictable…
    And our world keeps getting MORE dangerous with each revelation of his weakness.

  • Attacking Libya would be an act of war, a wise or unwise war.   Yet I have heard nothing about any declaration of war, or functional equivilent from Congress or even mention of the wacko War Powers Act.  The united States cam ill afford to be drawn into a war simply because our president can do little more than vote present.

    • Well from your perspective then we have the prefect president – one who woll always vote “Present” regardless of the action.  Now I have a question from you – How does someone voting “Present” provide the leadership the world is expecting from the one remaining superpower?

      I’ll wait.

  • I think the root cause here is that Obama’s narcissism inhibits him from making any decision where there is any appreciable amount of risk. He’s afraid of looking bad at the end. So he dithers, and dodges, and hopes it turns out either OK (so he can take the credit even if he didn’t do anything) or murky enough that his legacy media allies will cover for him.

    The only exceptions are those policies that clearly advance his core leftism. There he will support them to the hilt, as long as he can arrange for someone else to handle the details. Can’t interfere with his golf game, you know. Or his vacations.

    • Sounds right to me.

    • He was cornered. He knows that if France, the UK, and some Arabs make a go of a UN no-fly zone without US support he will look very very weak. (Even though I think that would have actually strengthened his case for his foreign policy.)
      Also, at first he said Khadaffi must go. Then he did nothing. Then he agrees he has to go. I think he likes saying noble sounding stuff like “This will not stand!” and expecting that no actual follow-up is needed. “It will all be on CSPAN!”
      He usually gets away with this with MSM cover. Maybe he was worried the MSM wouldn’t back him up on Libya.

  • why should we over extend ourselves? let the euros pick up the check and take the lead. as for a mid east policy a one size fits all approach is penny wise and pound foolish. i suggest you read this
    is the only thing that really matters

    • Who said anything about a “one size fits all” except you?

      I talked about a strategy. It is clear there is none. That’s the point – nothing about “one size fits all”.

  • Europeans just want another oil for food situation they can exploit and have the US take all the negative press because they’re the ones enforcing it.
    I say that because its a day late and a dollar short for assisting any real change in Libya’s leadership and seems directed at just being suppressive of Kaddafi.

    • A ceasefire to negotiate what? Khaddadi was willing to leave before. Now? With threats of being put on trial?

  • This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values

    WTF does that even MEAN????  And can anybody reliably tell me what The Dear Golfer thinks our* interests and values ARE with regard to the ME, North Africa, or any place else in the world?

    Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists.

    So… what does THAT mean?  Has he ordered the Navy and Air Force to execute plans to impose an NFZ?  Start hitting Ghaddaffi’s C3I, air, artillery and armor assets?  Start planning for these things in conjunction with the French, British, Arabs, etc?  Told Ghaddaffi that he has 24hr to get out of town or else?

    Or is it just, “Hey, I think you interventionists are right.  Yep, absolutely right.  So, so right.  Yessir, we ought to intervene.  Um-hmm.  Sure should.  And maybe we should make it clear to the world that I think we should.  How’s that for a dynamic plan?  I’ll get on that right after I get back from my vacation… er… trade mission, I meant to say… in South America.”

    Let me say again that, though I have long wanted to see Ghaddaffi gone (and preferably dead), I don’t see this as our fight any more than Darfur was our fight.  I would be willing to support military action IF we were also committed to to (dare I say it?) imposing democracy on the Libyans.  That means US ground troops to destroy the root out Ghaddaffi’s supporters, destroy his organs of power, and run the country while training Libyans to eventually take over in an efficient and (more or less) enlightened manner while at the same time keeping out the islamofascists who will doubtless descend on the country, scenting an opportunity to create A-stan v2.0 in North Africa.

    In other words, do it right or don’t do it at all.

    In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course.

    Boy, is THAT a charitable interpretation of what he did.  A more honest rendering would be, “Obama dithered and mouthed platitudes, always a step behind events, and eventually threw Mubarak under the bus when it became clear that his regime was over.”

    Say, whatever DID happen to ol’ Hosni?


    (*) – I know what HIS interests and values are: they are centered around parties, vacations, and the links.  Lazy b*stard.

    • (*) – I know what HIS interests and values are: they are centered around parties, vacations, and the links.  Lazy b*stard.

      IOW, the NinC (Narcissist-in-Charge)?

  • Before Obama was inaugurated I said wait until those presidential steroids kick in, and they kicked in and you had in the first weeks a trillion dollar “stimulus” bill of borrowed money that stimulated nothing but provided handsome political payoffs to, among others, public employee unions. Nothing was produced but safe government jobs. The White House had to invent a new category “jobs created or saved” to excuse the fact that they had in fact thrown a monkey wrench into the recovery.

    Then we got an array of destructive measures, in both domestic and foreign policy, culminating in the ObamaCare monstrosity, a brilliant third massive entitlement added to the two already effectively bankrupt massive entitlements.

    The goose who lays the golden eggs, entrepreneurial capitalism, was strangled for sport, strangled with regulation, uncertainty, and health care confusion. Strangled with massive public debt.

    So now comes Obama’s first real shot of military steroids. He inherited Afghanistan and Iraq and his campaign conceits about them and ongoing operations tied his hands. But with Libya he gets his nose under the tent of his own war.

    Something is very wrong here. Very very wrong. It was a terrible mistake for those on the right who did, to encourage this.

    It might not add up to much. For the Europeans it comes off as a vanity mission, something easy for them to get back in the game. Qadaffi is a nut, with the usual violent dictator credentials. He lent a hand in the terrorism game when he thought he could get away with it. But what’s the mission here? To protect those making war against his regime? And who might they be?

    Yes, Obama is a pompous oaf and ditherer, but he works all things toward his agenda. He folds everything down into the batter of his cake. So don’t mistake the dithering and indecision as anything important about him. What’s important is that, first, he doesn’t care and, second, that he doesn’t care because it all comes down to working toward his plan. What is his plan?

  • How fast will Egyptian public opinion turn against America when one of our bombs hits the wrong target?

  • The second half of your post is essentially the same thing that I have been saying for a while: we have no coherent or uniform plan for the Middle East.  I’m glad to see that others see this as well.

  • Daily Kos is almost entirely silent this morning on Libya, preferring domestic fare of upholding teachers and slamming Republicans. If we on the right are confused about Libya, the left is more so, much more so. Their instincts are anti-war, anti-intervention. even with a tyrant like Qadaffi, even with Europe, the UN and Obama lining up against Q.

    I don’t think Obama has much running room if Libya requires a substantial commitment and most likely it will. Obama has some hard sledding ahead later this year and the next, when the war in Afghanistan bogs down and he can’t bring our troops home in more than symbolic numbers.

  • Hilarious stuff, this lack of silence from the “anti war” left now.   Disgusting hypocrites one and all.  I guess we’re doing it for the OIL!!!!   And doesn’t this type of thing make the arab street mad and create more terrorists?

    Oh yeah….I forgot. All of that is inoperative now that a Dem is in office.  Cretins.

    With the no-fly zone, what is the gameplan exactly?  Baracky talked tough about getting rid of Qadaffy (or however you spell his name, I don’t care enough about him to bother) but this plan does just the opposite – it keeps him on the seat of power while EXCPLICITLY setting us up as his enemy.

    If the goal was to overthrow him I could at least understand.  But to just throw up a no-fly zone to protect these rebels – how can this become anything other than a lengthy committment?  And when it does, how does Obama “it will be a matter of days” justify our THIRD continuing war in the mid-east?

    • Given the hand of Clinton in all of this, it is yet to be seen is if the old feminist myth, that more women in government would result in few wars, is true.

  • … and for all those on Left that say the military is always itching for a fight …

    Obama’s Tuesday night decision to push for armed intervention was not only a defining moment in his ever-evolving foreign policy, but also may have marked the end of the alliance between Clinton and Gates — an alliance that has successfully influenced administration foreign policy decisions dating back to the 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.
    “Gates is clearly not on board with what’s going on and now the Defense Department may have an entirely another war on its hands that he’s not into,” said Clemons. “Clinton won the bureaucratic battle to use DOD resources to achieve what’s essentially the State Department’s objective… and Obama let it happen.”

    … clearly the Pentagon is not the instigator here. They are just following orders.

    • Did anyone notice the PR campaign that Clinton put on.  Her interviews that she would not be there for another term … her public frustration ??

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