Shadow Government

The U.S. sits one out

Last night’s U.N.  Security Council resolution passed with no visible effort by the Obama administration.  Britain, France and Lebanon drafted it and twisted arms to get it passed. Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy made the public case; their foreign ministers harangued the G-8 foreign ministers. Although Secretary Clinton herself spoke out in favor of multilateral action, when pressed by ...

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Last night’s U.N.  Security Council resolution passed with no visible effort by the Obama administration.  Britain, France and Lebanon drafted it and twisted arms to get it passed. Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy made the public case; their foreign ministers harangued the G-8 foreign ministers. Although Secretary Clinton herself spoke out in favor of multilateral action, when pressed by her G-8 colleagues to support the no fly zone, she was unwilling to take a position. When pressed by the President of France, she said "there are difficulties."

Meanwhile, President Obama leaves for spring break in Brazil without having consulted members of Congress or making a case to the American people that Libya’s freedom is worth sacrifice by us. Our Commander in Chief cannot be intending to commit American military forces to intervene in Libya without being much more at the helm than this.

So a major international operation will begin, most likely under the leadership of the French or British. More power to them for being willing to undertake something difficult and dangerous in support of freedom. Hopefully the damage they do to Qaddafi’s military will prevent him crushing the rebellion and lead to his overthrow.

Much could go wrong, though.  In response to the U.N. resolution, Qaddafi has threatened retaliation against shipping in the Mediterranean. And he didn’t hesitate to blow up an airliner or develop chemical weapons in the past. The resolution explicitly forbids an "occupation force," which means it will be constrained to air and perhaps sea operations. Gaddafi is a despot and we should expect him to be just as tenacious in refusing to capitulate as was Slobodan Milosevic; the air campaign may go on for some time, and countries enforcing the U.N. resolution may not be able to succeed by these limited means.

I hope our government has quietly provided assurances to our allies that we will assist them in every way, including providing satellite intelligence, persistent surveillance, communications support, and even combat search and rescue from U.S. forces nearby. We should want work to get done in the world even if our own government won’t do it, and we should most certainly want our trusted allies to succeed in preventing violence the president termed "outrageous and unacceptable."

Stepping back and letting others do the work certainly isn’t a bold or brave moment for American foreign policy, and it will have consequences that our government has been so stingy in support of the cause of freedom. But President Obama just isn’t willing to bear much freight for other peoples’ freedom. The only thing worse would be him committing our military forces to a fight he has little real interest in.

Kori Schake is the deputy director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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