Fox News is reporting that no less a terrorist than Anwar Al-Awlaki was a guest at the Pentagon not long after 9/11. The invitation to lunch with Pentagon officials was evidently intended to reach out to moderate Muslims. The full story of how a man who, following the death of OBL, is now a notch closer the top of the “Kill or Capture” list could have been regarded as “moderate” remains to be told: no one around the Pentagon then appears to remember how it happened. Apparently some naif in the Office of the Secretary of Defense attended a talk by Al-Awlaki and was impressed. The story raises a larger question: how do U.S. officials identify candidates in the continuing, but largely fruitless, search for moderate Muslims who can be mobilized to oppose Islamist radicals, an activity often thought to be the political dimension of the war on Islamist terror? The answer is: not well. One reason is the tendency of clueless officials to gravitate toward those Muslim “leaders” who appear to be the most aggrieved, those who complain the loudest of “Islamophobia.” Thus do CAIR and ISNA, get romanced while real moderate Muslims are largely ignored. My suggestion to the outreach bureaucracy: avoid self-proclaimed “moderates” who complain of Muslim bashing and reject the advice of well-meaning colleagues who wander into a lecture then claim to know that what they have just heard establishes the speaker as a moderate. After that, consult Steve Emerson who knows what he’s talking about.
So Superman is poised to renounce his American citizenship. He’s apparently tired of being taken as an expression of U.S. policies. He is reported to believe that he has been thinking “too small,” that he should not limit himself to a “purely national identity.” The official renunciation is planned in an appearance at the United Nations. Superman’s disaffection was apparently triggered by complaints in the White House that his support for the opposition in Iran was misconstrued as American policy. He need not have worried that the Iranian opposition would confuse him with President Obama–who continues to harbor the illusion that he will succeed in “engaging” the Iranian dictatorship and must, therefore, tread gingerly in all dealings with it. But its not surprising that the White House would distance itself from anyone going to Teheran to encourage the opposition. That the Administration thought it could dress down Superman with impunity proves that it doesn’t understand how far it has fallen since the heady days of 2008, long before the desire for change was upended by the “change” that actually ensued.
But if Superman is now to become an expression of some “international” identity in place of his American one, he won’t be rushing to Tehran anytime soon. And if he delays his announcement at the U.N. by just a few days he can be there to witness Syria’s election to the Human Rights Council. It’s anyone’s guess where he’ll go from there.
Unless something intervenes to stop it, Syria is about to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It’s not necessary to belabor the absurdity of such a development, or the moral vacuity of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s refusal to discourage Syria’s election: “It’s a matter for the states,” he says. American opposition is likely but, on this matter, we have no veto. So here’s a suggestion: The U.S. should declare that if Syria is elected, the U.S. will resign its seat on the Council. Maybe the prospect of our refusal to continue in the monumental hypocrisy of a U.N. panel that routinely defends the worst abusers of human rights (many of which have become members precisely for that purpose), will sway enough votes to block Syria’s election. And if it doesn’t–well, we should never have joined the Council in the first place.
It is hard to know what made the greatest contribution to the fiasco that the administration’s Libyan policy has become: The debilitating delay that transformed a relatively easy mission into a hard one, or the current confusion about the goals of our intervention, the source of its legitimacy, and a strategy for success. The president refused to act when the rebels had momentum, when supplying them with weapons (and possibly a no-fly zone imposed from off-shore with stand-off weapons) might have enabled them to prevail over the Qaddafi regime. But by the time the administration got the international support without which it was unwilling to act, Qaddafi’s army was on the verge of destroying the opposition, and rescuing it required a vastly larger intervention, including a direct attack on Qaddafi’s bases and mechanized units. But whether late is better than never depends on the outcome, and that is anything but certain. The U. S. general commanding the Libyan operation said today that he could imagine completing his mission with Qaddafi (and sons) still in control of Libya, which, if the mission is to protect the Libyan people, could be decades away. General Ham’s pusillanimous goal (presumably that of the President) is more likely to anger than inspire the opposition – and so it should – with the result that we could find it all but impossible to extricate ourselves from a prolonged and bloody civil war. No good deed so ill-conceived can hope to escape punishment.
From the presidential theater of the absurd, Obama’s claim 10 days ago that he was “tightening the noose” around Qaddafi is right up there with Bush’s compliment to Michael Brown for doing “a heck of a job.” As the president talked about isolating Qaddafi and mobilizing the “international community,” there were lots of empty words—but there was no tightening—indeed, there was no noose. If the Libyan opposition is now crushed, and it may well be destroyed in the hours or days after the United Nations has finally authorized the establishment of a “no fly zone”, it will be the latest victim of the paralyzing belief that we can only act with the approval of the United Nations. Never mind that supplying weapons to the rebels early would have been far more effective than instituting a no-fly zone late. If by some miracle the situation is now reversed and the opposition is able to carry on the fight, it will be in spite of the Obama/Gates slow-motion-no-motion machine. Cameron and Sarkozy have stepped in where idlers feared to tread.
There’s no doubt the nuclear emergency in Japan is serious, so it’s perfectly reasonable for the media to help us understand the complexities of nuclear reactors, meltdowns, radiation levels, and the like. But having watched with the rest of us, I’m wondering when the identifying crawler on CNN or MSNBC or even Fox will identify an expert commentator as an “anti-nuclear activist.” Given their non-stop air time, several must be sleeping in network green rooms. Before the earthquake/tsunami they could be found opposing our nuclear strategic posture, opposing modernization of our strategic deterrent, opposing civilian nuclear power and arguing for eliminating all nuclear weapons. It may be hard to get the physics right, but the crawler should be easy.
As Qaddafi retakes territory once held by opposition forces, the results of the President’s failure of leadership and nerve are undeniable. The danger now, which was foreseeable from the beginning, is a Qaddafi victory followed by a blood bath in which regime opponents seeking to end decades of injustice, are hunted down and killed–or driven into the arms of Islamist militants always eager for new recruits. What can we expect from a victorious, vindictive Qaddafi, who committed acts of terror and killed Americans even before the President’s feckless denunciations convinced him (and others) of American enfeeblement? Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program when America was strong. What will he do when America is weak?
The administration has been languidly debating whether to impose a “no fly Zone” to protect the rebels from devastating air strikes. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose departure from office will not come a moment too soon, has suggested that we would first have to destroy Libyan air defenses. This is nonsense. Has he not been briefed about our formidable ability to conduct air-to-air operations from stand-off distances well beyond the range of Libya’s paltry air defenses?
The Arab League, whose call for a “no fly zone” may carry more weight than the President’s missing strategic and fly-weight moral sense, may, even at this late moment, open the way to something we should have done much earlier. It at least removes one of the administration’s many excuses: that we would somehow be seen as attacking a Muslim country by protecting Muslims rebelling against injustice and fighting for their lives.
The Qaddafi forces appear to be taking territory back from the rebels. With mechanized forces, rockets and air forces, how could it be otherwise? Meanwhile the administration is wracked by indecision. The State Department is confused about a U.N. arms embargo on Libya, thinking that it precludes our sending arms to the rebels. (We did something like this in Bosnia: impose an arms embargo on well-armed Serbs and unarmed Muslims. 200,000 Muslims died.) The President should immediately reject any interpretation of the U.N. embargo that would leave the rebels defenseless. We can, of course, stand by and accept whatever outcome results from a war that could go on for some time, with mounting casualties and opportunities for our enemies to maneuver their way to power. We could watch passively as support for the rebels is provided by those most concerned to propel their acolytes into power. Alternatively, we could at least try to shape the outcome by helping those rebels who are driven by political rather than religious motives, rebels who will not establish an Islamist beach head in North Africa. Some argue that we do not know the players–and given the parlous performance of the CIA in these areas–they may be right. But there are almost certainly people fighting Qaddafi whose motives do not include a hatred of the West or the dream of Muslim global dominance. If we can identify them it would be in our interest to help them–but time is running out. The debate over a “no fly zone” will drag on. Why not put anti-aircraft weapons (Stingers or their equivalent) in the right rebel hands? We didn’t need a “no fly zone” to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Stingers in Afghan hands were quite enough. I fear we may do the usual thing: wait until the high-definition carnage plays out on nightly television and revulsion at the slaughter leads to a too-late, too-little intervention lacking both strategic and moral clarity.
(Also read Richard Perle’s previous post on the Libyan civil war.)
It will be a miracle if the opposition to Qaddafi, armed only with a small supply of weapons seized from government arsenals, is able to withstand heavily armed attacks on the positions it now holds. While the administration dithers, and debate swirls around “no fly zones,” there is an urgent, immediate need to get anti-tank and anti-air weapons into the hands of those rebels who would free Libya–and not turn it over to Islamist radicals. If we don’t assist the rebels, Iran and other Islamists will, with disastrous consequences. (They are probably there already). We helped the Mujahideen defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, but we allowed the Pakistanis and the Saudis to decide who would be armed. Of course they armed the Islamist groups they wished to promote–and we got the Taliban. Now the administration is said to be debating whether to ask the Saudis to send weapons to the rebels–because we don’t have the courage it do it ourselves. Guess who will wind up running Libya?
America’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, has told a Senate committee that he believes Qaddafi will prevail in his battle with opposition forces. This is the same official who told another Senate committee that the Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular,” a gaff so breathtaking that it would have abruptly ended his career in any government but ours. But this time he may be right, especially if he is advising the President to repeat his demand that Qaddafi leave office while doing nothing to help the rebels defend themselves. Indeed, by failing to get defensive weapons into rebel hands, we are, de facto, increasing the power of Qaddafi’s offensive weapons. The result of this bizarre policy of helping Qaddafi while calling for his departure will have predictable results: an enraged Qaddafi and an embittered opposition, ripe for recruitment into the Islamist camp. Charlie Sheen may be win-win. Obama is lose-lose.
Much of the reluctance to provide arms to the rebels, a low-cost strategy that does not entail the risks of U.S. military operations in or around Libya, reflects a classic excluded middle fallacy: either we invade Libya or do nothing. That may be the only choice this unimaginative, still-not-ready-for-prime-time administration can see, and endless consideration of a “no fly zone,” among the more difficult policies to effect, may be a way to buy time for yet more dithering. But we have a huge stake in the outcome and a chance at shaping it is being squandered by inaction. Maybe we could speed up the road to a serious, coherent policy by sending Clapper to eastern Libya: he’ll have no problem finding the secular rebels with whom we should be aligned.