1-Libya: Barack Obama is in no hurry to see Gaddafi go
America fears that a revolution in Libya could open the door to Islamist terrorism, writes David Frum.
Would President Obama prefer a Gaddafi victory? If that sounds implausible, then just look at the record. On March 3, Obama announced that Gaddafi "must go". Two weeks have passed since then – and more than a month since the uprising began on February 15. In the interim, the tide of war has turned in Gaddafi's favour. Yet Obama has done nothing to make his own words reality.
Every proposal – from the no-fly zone and aid to rebels, to recognition of a provisional government – has somehow become bogged down.
The administration never rejected the proposals out of hand, but it never accepted them either. And now time, so very unfortunately, has run out. Admittedly, the American government moves slowly. But it does not move this slowly.
The Obama administration may not care to admit it, but it did make a decision, and one of benefit to Gaddafi. Why? One factor was surely Obama's preference for a less activist foreign policy in general.
But there were special considerations in Libya, and they were clearly stated in a piece by General Wesley Clark for the Washington Post last Friday. The former US commander in Kosovo and a 2004 Democratic presidential candidate wrote: "We don't have a clearly stated objective, legal authority, committed international support or adequate on-the-scene military capabilities, and Libya's politics hardly foreshadow a clear outcome."
The key phrase here is "Libya's politics". For the past few days, Washington policy circles have been worrying over a piece of research circulated last week: "On a per capita basis … twice as many foreign fighters came to Iraq from Libya – and specifically eastern Libya – than from any other country in the Arabic-speaking world. Libyans were apparently more fired up to travel to Iraq to kill Americans than anyone else in the Middle East. And 84.1 per cent  of the 88 Libyan fighters … who listed their hometowns came from either Benghazi or Darnah in Libya's east."
That might not seem a statistically valid survey of public opinion inside Libya. But given the prevailing lack of information about the anti-Gaddafi insurgency, the factoid acted to corroborate fears of an Islamist takeover of Libya – or, maybe worse, the collapse of Libya into a Somalia-on-the-Mediterranean.
Perhaps President Obama reasoned something along these lines: "Yes, Gaddafi is a very bad guy. But he quit the terrorism business a decade ago and paid compensation to the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing. He surrendered his nuclear program in 2003. He co-operates with the EU in stopping illegal migration into Italy. He is a reliable oil supplier and a good customer for Western companies.
"It's very sad to see Gaddafi crush an uprising so brutally. But things could be worse. Tribal leaders, fighting each other, inspired by Islamic ideology – all just 300 miles from the coast of Sicily? We could have 300,000 refugees showing up on the Nato side of the Mediterranean. Better stick with the devil we know. The blood-letting cannot last much longer, stability will return soon. And then we can express regret for the loss of life, offer humanitarian assistance and impose some kind of sanctions on the Gaddafi family – at least until the fuss dies down."
Europeans who invested so much hope in Barack Obama may hesitate to accept the news that their man is not the idealist they had imagined. But Arab leaders have already got the message: Mubarak was a fool, don't resign in the face of protests, instead use force. The king of Bahrain has learnt the lesson of Libya: he is importing Saudi troops to suppress local protesters. Whoever called this moment the Arab 1848 had it right – assuming, that is, that the anonymous wit remembered how the original 1848 turned out.
But let's consider what meaning the Arab 1848 has for the West. Over the past near-decade, how often have voices in Britain and Europe reproached the Bush administration for its foolish infatuation with Arab democracy? Look at what happened in the Palestinian Authority, where the locals used their votes to vote for Hamas – and never got a chance to use them a second time. Look at what happened in Iraq, where the overthrow of a dictator opened the door to civil war, terrorism and Iranian influence. And indeed, the criticisms were powerful, as far as they went.
But Libya confronts us with the consequences of the opposite policy. As happened in Iraq in 1991, the world is acquiescing in the brutal suppression of a popular uprising by an Arab dictator. Will this violently reasserted dictatorship be "stable"? If those data on Libyan suicide bombers are correct, then Gaddafi's dictatorship has bred Islamic resistance. Will more violence intensify Libya's Islamification? And since no regime lasts for ever, what will Europe face across the Mediterranean when the regime does finally go?
Libya confronts us, too, with the folly of the traditional "realist" response to Islamic radicalism: the delusion that somehow the carving of a Palestinian state out of Israel will pacify the region. Are the boys of Benghazi fighting for Palestine? How exactly would installing a Palestinian president-for-life in east Jerusalem reconcile Libyans to a second generation of Gaddafis seizing Libya's oil wealth as their personal fortune?
Libya is Obama's Iraq in reverse. The fighting may end faster when the dictator survives. But the consequences may reveal themselves as no less ugly, no less large, and no less enduring.
Libya: Gaddafi confident of 'finishing the job' in 48 hours
The Gaddafi regime on Wednesday taunted the West over its failure to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and said it would "finish the job" of defeating the insurrection against its rule by Friday.
As Col Muammar Gaddafi's troops advanced towards the rebel capital, Benghazi, Saif al-Islam, his son, told "traitors and mercenaries" to flee the country or face the consequences.
"We don't want to kill, we don't want revenge, but you, traitors, mercenaries, you have committed crimes against the Libyan people," he said, in an interview. "Leave, go in peace to Egypt." Asked about continuing British and French attempts to persuade the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone, he answered: "Military operations are over. Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi. Whatever the decision, it will be too late."
The failure on Tuesday by the G8 group of nations to agree military intervention in Libya is said to have "perplexed" Downing Street. An immediate decision was opposed by China and Russia but even the United States failed to come out in support of the idea.
At Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron told MPs: "Every world leader has said that Gaddafi should go, that his regime is illegitimate and if at the end of this he is in place that will send a terrible message not just to people in Libya but to others across the region who want to see greater democracy, greater openness in their societies."
Britain has tabled its own resolution at the Security Council along with France and Lebanon, as a representative of the Arab world. But with that unlikely to be passed any time soon, William Hague also said Britain could support military action, including a no-fly zone, even without a resolution.
The White House is said to be exploring "other options", such as using sequestered Libyan assets to fund the opposition. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she was hopeful the UN Security Council would take a vote on a Libya resolution no later than Thursday.
But Bernard Jenkin, a senior Tory MP, said: "Where are the Americans? We are now in a new, entirely new situation. We have premised our defence and foreign policy for the last 60 years on the principle that if there is an international crisis involving our national interest the Americans would see that as involving their national interests.
"That is not the case under President Obama. He has been dithering and vacillating, his administration is divided and there is considerable concern on the other side of the Atlantic about what the United States should be doing."
In Benghazi itself, Col Gaddafi's warplanes began to soften up the town's defences in preparation for an attack. Residents could hear the sound of explosions coming from the direction of a military airfield. Addressing residents via state television, the army said: "This is a humanitarian operation being undertaken in your interests, and is not aimed at taking revenge against anyone."
A spokesman for the opposition military said three jets had attacked but had been forced to flee without hitting their targets.
People began fleeing the city yesterday, driving four hours east towards the relative sanctuary of Tobruk.
Majdi al-Heaid, a member of Tobruk's revolutionary council, said he feared an attack by government forces once Ajdabiya had fallen, opening up the desert road that runs all the way to the border with Egypt.
Government forces also launched a fresh assault on Misurata, Libya's third city, east of Tripoli, which has been in rebel hands since the start of the uprising.
The Gaddafi family meanwhile repeated claims that they had funded the electoral campaign of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. "We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything," Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said in his interview, with Euronews.
"The first thing we want this clown to do is to give the money back to the Libyan people. He was given assistance so that he could help them."
A well-placed government source in Tripoli told The Daily Telegraph it was "common knowledge" that the Gaddafi family had funded Mr Sarkozy "for years".
"Why do you think Sarkozy was so keen to invite us to Paris just four years ago?" the source said. "Our Brother Leader was treated as an honoured friend by Sarkozy at a time when others still wanted to treat us as pariahs.
"Sarkozy became a friends of the regime long before he came to power."
Mr Sarkozy led calls for a no-fly zone and even air strikes on Libya.
The Gaddafi claims were all strenuously denied by President Sarkozy's office.
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