The President's Libya Speech Answers Some Questions, Raises Others
President Obama's speech on Libya last week set forth the Obama doctrine for humanitarian military intervention. The United States will not stand by and watch military jets and helicopters unleashed on thousands who have no means to defend themselves. There is one crucial proviso, however: The intervention must be cheap – at least in terms of the cost of American lives. No U.S. ground troops will be deployed.
That formulation put Obama on the right side of the "Auschwitz test." Under the Obama doctrine, the United States would have evacuated desperate Jews attempting to escape Hitler on empty military transports returning to America and bombed the train tracks to Auschwitz.
The crucial proviso also answered the question of numerous critics: What distinguished Libya from Iraq? Obama first rose to prominence as a fierce critic of the Iraq War. Yet Saddam Hussein ruthlessly murdered more Iraqis than Muammar Gaddafi ever dreamed of – by some estimates up to 400,000. Between 60,000 and 70,000 Iraqi children died of starvation annually while Saddam siphoned off Oil-for-Food money for his security apparatus and presidential palaces.
The answer, it seems, is that Saddam could not be dislodged from power without a ground war. And that, in the words of then State Senator Barack Obama, made the war "dumb." The United States' failure to intercede in Darfur, where up to 400,000 black African Muslims have been killed to date by the Arab janjaweed, still remains a question, however, for the Obama doctrine.
Other questions remain. The President did not once mention Congress, which has the sole discretion to declare war under the U.S. Constitution, or explain why he did not feel necessary to consult congressional leaders prior to initiating a "kinetic military action." The unilateralist cowboy, George W. Bush, not only assembled a much broader international coalition, he obtained war resolutions in both houses of Congress.
Nor did Obama say what happens if having saved the civilian population of Benghazi, Gaddafi does not just go quietly into the night, as the president thinks he should. Military action waged from the safe redoubt of 25,000 feet is notoriously easy to initiate but difficult to finish. If the rebels do not prevail decisively, America's humanitarian values could quickly begin to conflict with American interests.
Gaddafi was once an international terrorist – remember Lockerbie. But he saw what happened to Saddam and blinked. He shut down his nuclear program and exited the terror game. But wounded and infuriated, he still has billions enough to find a few anti-American terrorists for hire, or to run a bloody insurgency. A protracted civil war could end up being as bloody as the disaster the bombing sought to prevent.
Even if the rebels do prevail, they may prove more threatening to U.S. interests than a domesticated Gaddafi. Many of the rebel fighters have Al Qaeda backgrounds, and the Islamist influence is strong in eastern Libya, the stronghold of the anti-Gaddafi tribes. Afghanistan, where the United States initially supported the Taliban against the Soviets, only to watch them later host Osama bin-Laden, teaches us not to expect gratitude from Islamists.
Most troubling from an Israeli perspective was President Obama's justification of American intervention in terms of a "duty to protect civilians," an amorphous academic doctrine of recent vintage. According to the doctrine nations engaged in "war crimes," "crimes against humanity," or "ethnic cleaning" may be said to have forfeited their sovereignty and be ripe for foreign intervention. Israel has been convicted of all three in numerous resolutions of the U.N. General Assembly and United Nations Human Rights Council.
Samantha Powers, the most forceful advocate for intervention in the administration, did so in terms of the "duty to protect." She was dropped from the Obama foreign policy team during the 2008 campaign because of earlier statements calling for the stationing of a "mammoth [American] force" in the West Bank to protect Palestinians from Israel. (Calling Hilary Clinton a "monster" didn't help either.) But she quickly resurfaced in a senior position on the National Security Council.
Among the board members of the George Soros-funded Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the main organization promoting "the duty to protect," are Bishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights at the time of the first Durban Conference. Both are persistent critics of Israel.
Could the military intervention in Libya have set a precedent for Western intervention to prevent Israel from using its overwhelming military superiority to defend itself from Hamas and Hizbullah terror attacks?
The Unspoken Tragedy of the Japanese Bochurim
A friend who keeps me abreast of doings in Lakewood called last week to tell me about a gathering of over a thousand Jews on Taanis Esther on behalf of the three bochurim arrested in Japan, two of whom face imminent sentencing. That outpouring of concern for three fellow Jews, whom no one in Lakewood knows, is itself inspiring, and will help hopefully tip the Heavenly scales in their favor.
Much of the gathering, I am told, described the extraordinary lengths to which the askanim who have devoted themselves to this case for the last three years have gone. I have worked with one of those askanim, Reb Meilach Bindiger, and can attest to the professionalism and incredible mesirus nefesh of the team.
But there was a tragedy that was not discussed along with the arrest and harsh imprisonment of the bochurim: the waste of millions of dollars in public money that could have gone for other crying communal needs -- waste because the arrest of the bochurim for smuggling drugs could so easily have been avoided.
So a little bit of attention should be focused on preventing any such future tragedies. Have we, as parents, become too intimidated to say "no" to our children about anything, especially if they are not asking us to pay for their whims? Would we have said no to our children if they told us they were flying, at someone else's expense, to Luzensk via Japan?
And if the parents were not informed, what does it tell us when even three bochurim from such an insulated environment do not feel the need to share with their parents plans for overseas travel? The answers to these questions have implications far beyond the tragic waste of communal funds.
Whose Side Indeed?
Netanyahu Under Pressure from Obama
Jackson Diehl, the deputy editor of the Washington Post editorial page, offered an incisive analysis of President Obama's Middle East policy last week. "A reasonable person might conclude from the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria et al., that the Middle East's deepest problems have nothing to do with Israel and that the Obama administration's almost obsessive focus on trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian settlement in its first two years was misplaced," he began. "But Obama isn't one of those persons."
He then noted that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has "no interest in negotiating with Israel." Diehl should know. Nearly two years ago, Abbas told the astounded members of the Washington Post editorial board that there was no point in negotiating with Israel. Rather he intended to just sit back and wait for Obama to pressure Israel into concessions.
Nevertheless, Obama has always believed that the onus for lack of peace falls on Israel: "The president made his mind-set clear from the beginning of his administration, when he chose to begin his diplomacy by demanding a complete freeze on Israeli settlement activity — a condition Abbas had never set but which he quickly adopted as his own." And nothing since then, including Israel's ten-month freeze on building, even in so-called "east Jerusalem," has caused Obama to change his mind. He told a group of Jewish leaders last month that Israel must examine its conscience for not making a "serious territorial offer" to the Palestinians.
Israel, unfortunately, has plenty of unhappy experience with previous territorial withdrawals from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and with giving up all its bargaining chips as an inducement to negotiate, as Ehud Barak did at Camp David in 2000.
The first terrorist bombing in seven years and the renewal of missile fire from Gaza on Ashdod and Beer Sheba, writes Diehl, are comparatively easy problems for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu compared to propitiating the angry Obama. His title says it all: "In Obama's push for Mideast peace, whose side is he on?"