Multilateralism Obama style

Multilateralism Obama style

It is such a comfort to know in a world of change, some things can still be relied upon. Like the irritating behavior of France. President Nicolas Sarkozy is reported to have refused to approve NATO military plans for operations in Libya until leaders were assembled in Paris — and then launched French aircraft sans coordination with allies.

Even with its false start, France did not get the honor of commencing operations. The United States, which the president tells us is not leading this operation, did. Of the 130 cruise missiles fired to commence operations, nearly all were American. American’s flew half of the 80 air sorties yesterday. Sticker price to the American taxpayer: likely several billion dollars; it was over $100 million for the first day’s missiles alone. The British are the only country that has invested enough in their own defense to have the ability to participate in the opening salvo of cruise missiles.

President Obama’s plan is to have the U.S. do the initial work that had to be done fast to prevent Gaddafi overrunning Benghazi and that required precision and risk the U.S. military is uniquely proficient at, then transition the operation to command by countries that will be patrolling the skies over Libya for the indefinite future.

But there is still no agreement to whom command will be passed. British Prime Minister Cameron insists it must be NATO; Sarkozy insists not. The French defense spokesman now suggests all participating military forces should have the honor of serving under French national command. Turkish Defense Minister expressed mystification, saying "It does not seem quite possible for us to understand France’s being so much at the forefront in this action." Italian Foreign Minister Frattini threatens Italy will not allow use of its bases unless it becomes a NATO operation. The French and German ambassadors walked out yesterday after criticism by the NATO Secretary General of France for unilateralism and Germany for not participating.

Turkey’s Prime Minister has objected to using force against Qaddafi, and was excluded from the Paris meetings over the weekend. Yesterday the Turkish Foreign Minister said, "there is a certain procedure under international law for the formation of such coalitions. We do not believe that this procedure was sufficiently observed."  It’s a pretty safe bet that Turkey will veto a direct NATO role.

To their credit, the Administration was able to convince a Muslim country, Qatar, to send a token six airplanes. But they have not done appreciably better than the Bush Administration, which even without a UN Security Council resolution gathered 56 (mostly token) force contributing countries for the invasion of Iraq. 

The State Department responded to questions about the dearth of Arab participation with "we believe we have Arab support…we need to let this process play out." Arab League Secretary General Amir Moussa called for a special meeting of the Arab League to discuss civilian casualties inflicted by our airstrikes. The German Foreign Minister has said the Arab League’s criticism justifies Germany having abstained from supporting the U.N. resolution. 

This is what comes from a lack of leadership by the United States. The medium powers squabble, and we do most of the work. Building a coalition requires a much more solid understanding of objectives, roles and responsibilities than President Obama launched this war having. The time of American leverage to work out these details was before we undertook the work France wanted to take credit for us doing and the Arab League was willing to support. Unfortunately, at that time the Obama administration remained opposed to the military operations they are now engaged in.