As Congress was out of session this week, I decided to take a look at the current events unfolding in Libya and how the country may want to proceed. Americans have come to consider the democratic rights that we hold to be one in the same as basic human rights. Therefore, Americans almost unilaterally consider it an injustice when a population is ruled by a tyrant. Most of society is ignorant or forgetful when it comes to how commonplace these regimes are in the world. In the instance of Libya, the unified revolt against the regime was so strong that it was picked up by the mainstream media, which in turn incited Americans to demand our government get involved in defending these civilians against their malicious leader.
Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi “Colonel Gaddafi”, has ruled over Libya for forty two years, making him one of the longest-serving rulers in history. This controversial leader recently threatened to “cleanse Libya house by house” in retaliation to his people’s protests. Upon this threat, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on March 18, 2011, that authorized military operations against Col. Gaddafi. The U.N. Council approved the resolution by a vote of 10-0, with Germany, China, Russia, India and Brazil being absent for the vote. The resolution originally authorized humanitarian relief only, but not aid for the rebel forces. The resolution ambiguously allowed for “all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.”
The U.S. intervened in Operation Odyssey Dawn at 3:00PM EST, March 19, 2011, and, together with British forces, has since fired well over 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libya’s air defense systems. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, March 20th in which he stated that the U.S. and allied forces have effectively established a no-fly zone. The no-fly zone is currently over the city of Benghazi, but is expected to be extended to the oil-refinery city of Brega, to Misrata (East of Tripoli) and then to Tripoli, the capital.
Even though the U.N. Security Council authorized an international coalition of 22 countries, the U.S. has been the predominant actor, firing missiles at directed Libyan targets. The missiles have been aimed at more than twenty Libyan targets located along the Mediterranean coastline. The targets have ranged from early warning radar and communications facilities around Tripoli, Misratah, and Surt. To date, U.S. F-16s, F-15s and AV-8 Harrier jets have been patrolling the skies, and have bombed pro-Gaddafi forces who have been continuing their offensive attacks on rebel strongholds in eastern Libya. In Addition, three U.S. B-2 stealth bombers have dropped 40 bombs on a Libyan airfield, in an attempt to destroy much of the Libyan Air Force.
Not surprisingly, Gaddafi has ramped up his propaganda messaging to the Libyan citizens in attempt to rally his people to unify against the U.S. and U.S. ally forces. He has said to them, “It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honor of Libya.” It is unlikely that the Libyans will be motivated to act in this capacity. The Libyans have clearly demonstrated their disapproval and distrust of Gaddafi, although he maddeningly overlooks this.
The U.S. and European counterterrorism officials have surmised that Gaddafi is primarily focused, even now, on maintaining his grasp of power over the Libyans, rather than resorting to vengeful acts of terrorism. Should Gaddafi change his stance, he has stockpiles of mustard gas and other highly explosive devices at his disposal. Additionally, history tell us, in the case of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988 which killed 270 people, Gaddafi is fully capable and willing to orchestrate terrorist attacks.
A common feeling that American leaders have repeatedly expressed, is that America, or President Obama in particular, has been too slow to act or take a stance. During the initial protests, President Obama supported Gaddafi’s decision to remain in power, although he made contradicting statements in support of the people’s fight for a new leadership. When Gaddafi began attacking his own people, the Administration then shifted its position and stated that Gaddafi “needs to go.” However, the military actions taken by the U.S. coalition forces have been primarily in furtherance of the humanitarian mission. These military actions have not necessary been focused on removing Gaddafi from power. In fact, Admiral Mullen has indicated that the U.S. mission could be successful even with Gaddafi remaining in power. However, it seems that most of the U.S. allies were more interested in seeing Gaddafi removed from power, not continuing the civil war.
The U.S., U.K., Italy, and others advocated for NATO to take the lead of the coalition forces. This week Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, announced that an agreement had been reached for NATO to begin enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya. This development has still created great confusion, such as whether or not NATO will be in command of air-based and sea-based missile strikes against Libya’s military and political infrastructure. It is also unclear as to what America’s role will be, and for how long and to what extent. Although the genocide that Gaddafi commanded is horrific, now that we have stepped into these murky waters, it is very difficult to see how we are going to get back out without paying significant consequences. Additionally, as Newt Gingrich has been stated, there are numerous countries that have oppressive regimes in place, many countries with citizens living in circumstances similar to the Libyans. When the U.S. sets the precedent that we are always going to be the heroic, freedom fighters, regardless of the cost, it sets a standard that we should be supporting citizens in the rest of the non-democratic countries currently being run by tyrants. Senator Lugar also echoed this sentiment when he stated that America needs to get our plan straight from the beginning or else there will be a situation in which “war lingers on, country after country, situation after situation, all of them on a humane basis, saving people.” Although this could prove to be a circumstance in which America needed to intervene, our leaders need to be especially cognizant of the precedent this is setting.
The Obama Administration was extremely hesitant to take any type of leadership position or to outline a strategy in this circumstance. Now that they have come to agreements with our allies and proceeded forward with a NATO resolution, one vital step has been skipped. The President has left Congress out of the discussions entirely up until this point. In sharp contrast, British Prime Minister David Cameron has made very specific appeals to the Parliament, outlining the reasons why Britain is intervening in Libya and in particular, why he is putting their British forces in harm’s way for this mission.
The Senate took a small step in passing S.Res. 85, which included a proposal that the U.N. Security Council take action to protect civilians, including a no-fly zone. Yet, the House of Representatives has not taken any legislative action on the issue. As we proceed, President Obama needs to reach out to Congress and clearly identify the scope, role, and purpose of the U.S. presence in Libya. Further, the President should seek a mandate from Congress for further military action. Speaker Boehner made this very plea in a letter to the President in which he stated, “It is my hope that you will provide the American people and Congress a clear and robust assessment of the scope, objective, and purpose of our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved.” Some critics have stated that the President is overstepping his Constitutional authority by launching strikes without an imminent threat to the U.S. The Constitution clearly grants the President, as Commander in Chief, the power to declare war; however, it does not grant him specific authority to carry out a war without Congressional approval. This issue is largely overlooked as Presidents in recent terms have made a practice of ordering military action without Congressional authorization, such as with George H.W. Bush in Somalia and with Bill Clinton in Kosovo.
There has not been a clear strategy for leaders to indicate how Operation Odyssey Dawn could be a success if Gaddafi in fact remains in power. Additionally, it is difficult to state the long term goal of our military action, considering the U.S. and NATO have already stated it is not to remove Gaddafi from power. A troubling Reuters/IPSOS poll released this week showed that Americans have very little confidence in President Obama’s role as Commander in Chief. In fact, only 17% were willing to go so far as to say his leadership was “strong and decisive.” Whether or not the intervention was the wisest move, America has stepped in and thus, must now display assertiveness and self-confidence in the face of Gaddafi and his tyrannical regime. In doing so, America should continue to work closely with NATO as well as Great Britain.