Hope is not a strategy

Unless the allies take decisive action, only luck can prevent the partition of Libya Photo: Associated Press

PARIS, April 18, 2011 — The facts in Libya are simple: we have a stalemate. This would be an acceptable solution had the United States confined itself to a supporting role; had the President not demanded that Gadhafi step down; and had the U.S. not insisted on putting NATO out in front. But the U.S. has taken a major if not the leading role in the operation; the President has demanded that Gadhafi step down; and NATO is involved. A stalemate now means humiliation not only for the United States but for France, Great Britain, and NATO. The solution is simple; Gadhafi must go; but how to do it is another problem.

US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy enter the Elysee Palace in Paris (Sat. March, 19, 2011) (Photo: Associated Press)

The leaders of the United States, France, and Great Britain, in a jointly published op-ed piece, reaffirmed their resolve to chase out Gadhafi.  They have upped the ante, but what they plan to do to achieve their objectives is unclear.

The situation is eerily similar to Kosovo in 1999 – another tricky semi-war that we had no business being involved in. The Serbian thug Milosevic eventually buckled under the rain of bombs, but had he persisted, even for another month or two, the United States and its NATO allies would have found themselves in a hellish position, unable to get out and unwilling to escalate.

Today the allies are hoping that Gadhafi, like Milosevic, will eventually give up and leave, and judging from what they are saying, there are hints that their resolve is beginning to weaken. According to the Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, there is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one – a classic euphemism meaning, “we cannot do much.”  The op-ed piece mentioned earlier let it be known that the future of Libya is in the hands of the Libyan people – another euphemism for inaction. Meanwhile the three leaders, Sarkozy, Cameron, and Obama, repeat like a mantra their demand that Gadhafi step down.

But how long can this situation persist? How long can we continue to bomb without result? At this point, the best solution would be a joint military action by the French and the British to topple Gadhafi, with the U.S. playing a supporting role. Whether or not our two allies are prepared for such an adventure, I am not sure, but if something is not done soon, we are in for a joint humiliation. One hopes that Gadhafi will slip on a rock and crack his skull, leaving us all in peace, but we cannot hang the credibility of the Western world on that possibility.

Speaking of the Western world let me conclude by saying that this crisis in Libya is a fine demonstration of why a separate European command is so important.  The European force we have today is not an army but the shadow of an army; it is more an adjunct of NATO, or of France. What is needed is a force which can act in situations like Libya, where European interests, but not American interests, are implicated. Under the current arrangement, every time a situation like this appears, NATO is dragged into the middle and a spotlight is shined on America’s commitment to Europe. A bona fide EU defense force will prevent such misfortunes; will strengthen not “duplicate” NATO. If only such a force had been available for Libya, much of the headache that we are suffering today could have been avoided.  It is only after the utility of a wise measure has passed that we realize the need for it. But still, better late than never. 


Benjamin Ra is a graduate student in International Affairs at Sciences Po Paris. American foreign policy is his main interest. Read more of Benjamin’s writing in A Word on the National Interest in the Communities at the Washington Times.



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Benjamin Ra

Benjamin Ra is a recent graduate of Sciences Po Paris. He writes mainly on foreign policy and is currently residing in South Korea. 

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