Christopher Dickey writes:
President Barack Obama and European heads of state are enthralled spectators to events on the ground in Libya, waiting and watching for the first real massacre. Once that happens—once they allow that to happen, standing by as Muammar Gaddafi loyalists with air power and tanks slaughter scores of civilians—then Western leaders may actually feel they have enough political cover to get involved. Actually, it would be better from the Obama-Cameron-Sarkozy point of view if hundreds of civilians get killed. Anything less, it would seem, and it’s a no-go even for a no-fly zone.
That is what British Foreign Minister William Hague is saying when he talks about “a clear trigger” and “a demonstrable need that the whole world can see” before a no-fly option can be hammered through the U.N. Security Council. That’s what President Obama had in mind when he warned Gaddafi on March 3 that “those who perpetrate violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable.” He was talking, you will note, about retribution after the fact.
The American military, meanwhile, is so damn tremulous at the prospect of a military engagement in Libya that Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were caught by an open mic on Monday making an ironic joke when Gates landed in Afghanistan:
“Flying a little bigger plane than normal,” said Petraeus. “You gonna launch some attacks in Libya or something?”
“Heh-heh, yeah,” Gates chuckled. “Exactly.” Nothing could be farther from his intentions.
Given all the lessons learned far too late in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003, one can understand the reticence of the uniformed services. But, in fact, the explanations given for caution about imposing a no-fly zone in this case are mistaken, if not willfully misleading, on just about every count. When I read a blind quote from a White House staffer in Tuesday morning’s New York Times saying Obama “keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic,” I tried to convince myself our learned head of state is not, in fact, such a fool as his staffer. Organic? Meaning totally home-grown and self-sustaining? Ask the French, for instance, how “organic” the American Revolution really was.
If we Westerners are worried about popular sentiment in the Arab world, which would be something novel for us, then the opinion we need to satisfy should be that of the young people in the streets who have risen against their dictators. They represent, after all, some two-thirds of the region’s population.
“We’ll be watching carefully to make sure we’re on the right side of history,” Obama told us last week. But then he equivocated, as usual, saying the U.S had to take “all the various equities into account.” Those are not exactly inspiring words to protesters in Libya literally begging for international protection from Gaddafi’s air force. “We don’t want a foreign military intervention, but we do want a no-fly zone,” as one rebel fighter told the Associated Press. “We are all waiting for one.” The rebels can take on “the rockets and the tanks,” he said, “but not Gaddafi’s air force.” The longer the West wrings its hands while the Libyan protesters-turned-rebels twist in the wind, the more the West will be resented, not applauded.