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Obama's Patience Pays Off in Libya

By Alan Jilka
Opinion | September 11, 2011

SALINA, Kan. - Not that many were paying attention in our country, but the long reign of one of the world's most despotic dictators ended last month. And while the road ahead for Libya will be treacherous and uncertain, it will not be directed by Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. President Obama and American diplomacy deserve a share of the credit.

Ever since the United States emerged as a world power in the aftermath of World War I Americans have struggled with the continuing question of when and whether to intervene in foreign conflicts. President Woodrow Wilson believed that American engagement with the world community would help prevent another world war. But a wave of isolationism swept the country in the aftermath of the "Great War," and the U.S. Senate refused to ratify United States' membership in the League of Nations.

When that isolationist strategy failed the U.S. took the lead in the formation of the United Nations following World War II. And while one can argue the UN's role in preventing another world war, we continually face the same isolationist/interventionist dilemma in regards to the many local and regional conflicts that plague our world.

Just in the last two decades we have seen situations arise across the globe in places such as Tiananmen Square (China) to Iraq, Somalia, Ruanda, Haiti, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Burma, and now countries that have been swept by the so-called "Arab Spring."

There is no shortage of brutal dictators in our world. When should the U.S. intervene?

One of the principles in German Philosopher Immanuel Kant's philosophy was that if one has the power to remedy an injustice somewhere, he or she has a responsibility to do so." This argument would favor the interventionists. But calculations of cost (both in blood and treasure) and national interests also come into the equation.

In the 1990's the United States helped kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and intervened with air power to assist Kosovo in the face of Serbian oppression. But we stood by, for example, and watched the Rwandan genocide, and have not gone in to help the starving Somalis we have seen on our evening television news in recent weeks.

Cynics will say that the U.S. only acts when there are economic or geopolitical interests at stake.

There also has to be a calculation as to whether we actually have the power to influence a foreign conflict. Clearly we did not have the ability to greatly influence events in China in 1989, or Iran in 2009.

In the aftermath of the past decade's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the American public's appetite for military intervention has greatly waned. In the case of Libya, although Republican hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham urged the introduction of U.S. ground troops, few seconded their call. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party led by Congressmen such as Dennis Kucinich opposed any intervention. But could the U.S. sit idly by and watch Qaddafi slaughter innocents? In a sparsely-populated country with a dictator with few international friends we had a chance to influence events.

President Obama seems to have found a middle course. He was willing to let NATO take the lead, assist the alliance, but made it clear there would be no U.S. "boots on the ground." One can assume that some masterful behind-the-scenes diplomacy took place, as both China and Russia, frequently at odds with the U.S. in the UN Security Council, abstained on a motion to authorize military intervention to protect Libyan civilians.

In the end Obama's strategy and patience paid off. And Libyans now have a chance to create their own future.


1 Comment

Obama is not attempting to strike an altruistic balance between diplomacy and invasion. The conflict in Libya presented two fronts, both of which are anti-US. There was no way for the world's leading colonialist powers in the Middle East, NATO, to come out with a friendly Libyan government so they supported the quickest outcome.

It is important to recognize that the US did not support the rebels because it was somehow the right thing to do, to topple the dictator. Again, the US of course acts in its own interest. And since they could not have a hand in the rebellion, beause the rebels are anti-colonialist, their interests would be in-tact if the coup was swift. Business is now going on as usual. If there is peace, and capital risk is low, it is actually unimportant to the US whether or not the suppliers of oil are "good".

Military intervetion is waning only because colonialism has had to change strategies. Popluar movements, especially in the Middle East, are gaining ground. The new governments will be more autonomous, more democratic, and overall "better". But they won't be colonies, or neo-colonies. They will be inherently, and militantly, opposed to US and European policies that would attempt to control their autonomy.

These victories are wonderful for global democracy, but very bad for US hegemony. Obama and leaders after him will either adapt their strategies to control regional resources and politics, which would perpetuate colonialist practices that create poverty and unrest in the Global South, or American hegemony will simply continue lose strength in the face of uprisings until the spell is broken.


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