WASHINGTON D.C., September 13, 2012 – Former New Mexico governor and presidential candidate Gary Johnson added his voice to the growing outrage over the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in the Benghazi embassy raid in Libya.
“It is tragic when Americans serving their country are murdered, and we both mourn their loss and honor their service,” the Libertarian presidential candidate announced in a press release. “Part of honoring that service is to ask the obvious question: What U.S. interest is being served by putting our people – and our money – in places where U.S. personnel can be killed by extremists over a video? We launched millions of dollars worth of missiles to bring down Gaddafi, and this is what we get.”
Johnson went on to assert “Protecting America with a strong national defense and a rational foreign policy is our leaders’ most basic responsibility. But let us not confuse national security with senseless intervention where our interests are clearly not being served.”
Gary Johnson’s statement raises a profound point that an increasing number of frustrated Americans agree with. In 2011, bipartisan calls for intervention in Libya were both manic and deafening in spite of concerns that assisting the rebel uprising against Qaddafi could have disastrous implications for the stability of Northern Africa.
Obama’s implementation of Operation: Odyssey Dawn purely on the basis of U.N. Resolution 1973 was erroneously compared and praised by both conservative and liberal voices alike to Ronald Reagan’s Operation: El Dorado Canyon (1986). In reality, the Nixon, Carter and Reagan Administrations opposed Qaddafi’s regime for reasons vastly different and more legitimate than the Obama Administration.
Contrary to popular belief, neither Carter nor Reagan opposed Qaddafi for the internal affairs of his country. The real reason American forces were at odds with the Libyan regime was that just four years after Colonel Qaddafi’s coup, the Libyan leader declared his territorial waters stretched out nearly 100 kilometers from his shore in defiance of traditional international law which recognized a 19 kilometer maritime border.
In international law, because there is no single, universal enforcement authority, laws are made valid by voluntary recognition or invalid by voluntary dissent. That is to say, if Qaddafi’s 100 kilometer Line of Death was allowed to stand, the national security implications for the United States and her allies would be gravely jeopardized if other states opted to recognize the Libyan territorial claim. Other states adjacent to tight waterways or fishing areas could have followed suit and closed off access to vital routes. In a nuclear armed world, the implications of Qaddafi’s policy if left to stand could have even led to World War III.
For this reason, the United States intentionally challenged the Line of Death with freedom of navigation exercises in which U.S. military aircraft and vessels were intentionally sent inside Qaddafi’s illegal territorial extension so as to refuse recognition of his martime claim.
Over the next several decades, both U.S. and Libyan forces would engage each other in the Gulf of Sidra and also indirectly in the form of proxy conflicts and operations across Africa, the Middle East and even Europe. By the time that Reagan launched Operation: El Dorado Canyon in 1986 in response to the bombing of the La Belle discothèque in West Berlin, there had already been years of tensions boiling between the West and Qaddafi, who saw himself as a model of defiance to the Western system.
Contrast that with President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya which not only was unconstitutional but violated the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter. Chapter 1, Article 2, Paragraph 7 of the U.N. Charter specifically states “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit to settlement under the present Charter”.
By directly supporting and bolstering the rebels against Qaddafi in the name of U.N. Resolution 1973, President Obama was operating under false authority. Libya was a sovereign state, so all negotiations and actions taken between the United States and Libya or the United Nations and Libya should have been with Qaddafi, not the rebels opposing him.
President Obama’s actions in Libya while stirring a shallow, pop culture, pop pundit approval violated more than three centuries of international tradition. In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia marked an important precedent for states in that a country’s borders and what happens inside those borders are the domain of that state and that state alone. The intervention in Libya not only committed America to a dangerous foreign policy gamble, it broke a long held international tradition and opened the door for the rise of global bodies and international coalitions intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.
We should be deeply troubled over both the attacks on our embassies across Africa and the Middle East and the direction that President Obama has taken U.S. foreign policy. The international structure exists for a reason and traditions exist because they work. President Obama’s actions have made us less safe at home and around the world.
It’s time to strongly consider revisiting the Caspar Weinberger model of national defense and foreign policy in which we put all policy proposals before a litmus test: the United States should not commit forces to combat unless vital national interests are involved and should be considered only as a last resort when the support of Congress and U.S. public opinion is fully engaged.
What we are seeing now is the predictable outcome of a failed policy that flies in the face of years of wisdom and policy understanding. Following the disastrous Vietnam War, our planners went back to their academic roots and took heed to the wisdom of Sun Tzu who warned:
“Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now, when you weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.”
Look at what is happening around us. America’s economy is broken and her military scattered around the world. Embassies are being breached all across Africa and the Middle East and the war on terror continues with new threats emerging against America, just as Sun Tzu’s wisdom warned of opportunistic chieftains springing up to take advantage of our extremity. America cannot handle this strain.
President Obama’s foreign policy has been described by some pundits as “bold and courageous.” It is not. It is reckless, irresponsible and it masquerades as leadership. The superlative military tactician Carl von Clausewitz warned that a correct and penetrating eye is superior to craftiness when it comes to national leadership, and now more than ever we need discernment, not politics as usual. We are weaker, not stronger under these policies and the sooner we change course, the sooner America can be strong - and secure - again.
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