What can be learned from Libya?


Nobody said it would be easy to intervene in Libya and get away clean. Three years ago, as the U.S. launched the campaign that ultimately toppled Moammar Gadhafi, president Obama was clear about one thing: “The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task.”

Unfortunately, the president never made clear how Libya fit into a larger grand strategy. The American people are still pretty much left in the dark about where the White House would like to wind up by the time President Obama finishes his second term. That’s to say nothing of our posture in the world five or 10 years hence.

Of course, even the most hardworking presidents can become captive to events. Still, knowledge of an administration’s overarching approach gives us the perspective we need to form an opinion about our foreign policy, regardless of how it’s faring.

There wasn’t much confusion, for instance, with George W. Bush — whether U.S. forces were riding high in Iraq or not. Because Americans understood their president’s vision, they found little difficulty in lining up for or against it.

Protesters may have fumed about Bush’s quip that their fury embodied democracy in action, but the truth is, it’s hard for democracy to function if citizens don’t know how to assess their own president’s agenda.

Libya has made that painfully clear in the realm of foreign policy. It was straightforward enough in the early days. Gadhafi seemed to threaten a massacre in Benghazi, and President Obama was determined to stop it. Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, it wasn’t so clear that Libya was likely to tip into an abyss of disorder.

It would have been nice for the president to have made those stakes clear. Today, Libya is becoming an Afghanistan on the Mediterranean.

The latest player is Khalifa Haftar, a “rogue” general with a long history of involvement in American schemes and counter-schemes. His plan is relatively clear: Fighting radical Islam, Islamic terrorism and national lawlessness — perhaps at any price, in the manner of Egypt’s military.

Seeking to assuage concerns that he wants a military government, Haftar has called for an emergency civilian government in the runup to fresh elections. That’s left the White House mumbling approval from the sidelines.

Here’s what a State Department spokesperson had to say about the proposed elections. Take a deep breath: They “lay a foundation for a more stable Libya, because having an elected government that can continue to work on the challenges that need to be addressed — whether that’s increased training and improving security on the ground, dealing with some of the economic challenges — is clearly an important part of what we think needs to happen from here.”

We have to do better than that. But it’s hard to be clear, concise and coherent in the details when the big picture is such a mess. It may be too late for Obama to make his vision plain to the American people. Expectations will be high for the next president.

— From the Orange County Register

 

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