What Would We Do Without the Arab League?

Little publicized fact: Right up until the Arab League suspended Libya's participation, due to Gaddafi's highly visible slaughter of his own people, which country held the annually rotating presidency of the Arab League? Why, Libya. It was Muammar Gaddafi who played host to the Arab League's summit last March, welcoming the worthies in lavish style to a gathering attended by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

That tells us something about the character of the Arab League, a club of 21 Arab states plus the Palestinian Authority. Among its more moderate members are such countries as Morocco, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Among its -- shall we say -- more troubled and troubling members are Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. Founded in 1945, the Arab League has been on balance one of the modern world's most enduring clubs of despots. Its abiding preoccupation, apart from a lot of internal squabbling, has been blaming the miseries caused by its own despotisms on the sole full-fledged and enduring democracy in the region -- which is Israel.

None of that would suggest the Arab League is well-equipped to guide the Arab world into a democratic era. For the most part, it does not represent the people of its member states, but their oppressors.

But President Barack Obama, in his zeal to abdicate U.S. world leadership, has been looking to regional hubs of power to chart the way. When protests erupted into outright popular rebellion in Libya last month, and Gaddafi responded with slaughter, Obama dithered. Calls for action coming from within the U.S., or even from Europe, did not sway him. What finally galvanized him was a March 12 call from the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya. Out of that came the March 17 UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya, with its muddy mandate not to remove Gaddafi, but for "protection of civilians."  More on that in my article for NRO on "Libya's Backseat Drivers." This is a UN resolution tailored to the sensitivities of the Arab League (which, conveniently enough, coincide with some of the worst instincts of the Obama administration). The Arab League figures large, by name, in the resolution itself, and was credited by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice as the inspiration for this resolution. Obama, in his peripatetic issuing of statements following this resolution -- from the White House, from Brazil, from Chile, etc. -- implied there would be Arab "partners" sharing the cost and responsibilities of this intervention the Arab League had called for in Libya.