Whatever happened to the good old days when the U.S. aggressively confronted evil-doers and France screamed about our defiling the altar of the United Nations? Now, it is France and other European allies who are leading the way in confronting brutal dictators while the U.S. drags its feet so as not to look like an anti-Muslim resource-grabber. And while the U.S. dithers on Libya despite direct requests for help, suspicions in the Arab mind are being reconfirmed that it cares about their well-being as much as Charlie Sheen cares about sobriety.
Western Europe, not the U.S., has acted as the leaders of the free world since the Libya crisis began. When President Obama finally addressed it, he did not mention Gaddafi by name. He didn’t call for his removal until late last week. The British were the ones who began contacting Libyan officers to tell them they could be prosecuted for war crimes if they did not defect. It was French President Sarkozy, not U.S. President Obama, who first called for a NATO-imposed no-fly zone on February 23. Since then, British Prime Minister Cameron has become the loudest voice in the free world to support it.
There are now mixed messages coming out of France with the foreign minister saying any no-fly zone must be under UN authority, even though Russia opposes it, but we know where Sarkozy stands. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Defense Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen say say there is no confirmation that Gaddafi’s forces are carrying out air strikes despite countless accounts from Libyans, reporters, and pilots who defected. Gates is warning about what it will look like to attack another Middle Eastern country and Secretary of State Clinton says that intervention has been resisted to avoid the perception that we’re trying to take Libyan oil. Ironically, the military commander who defected in Tobruk is suggesting that the West’s oil business with Gaddafi is the reason why it is not coming to their rescue.
CNN had an interview with a Libyan woman on February 19 who repeatedly pleaded for help, saying: “Mr. Obama, please help us.” Not a single Libyan defector or rebel leader is opposing a no-fly zone. The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. who has turned against Gaddafi has said that the passive response is, to the Arabs, more proof that the West “has only a materialist mind — they don’t care about human rights … except when it comes to their own interest.” Over 200 Arab organizations have endorsed a no-fly zone and opposition spokesmen are now going further in their requests, saying they would welcome “surgical military strikes” and arms shipments.
With these types of pleas, who can blame the Libyans or the Arabs as a whole for seeing the U.S. as uncaring, especially given how easy and relatively risk-free such limited intervention would be? President Obama sought to reverse the damage done by the Iraq War but his lack of response is reinforcing the anti-American narrative that the U.S. only intervenes when there are natural resources at stake like in Iraq. “Human rights” is just an excuse to get them.