In “Symposium: The Mismanaged War Against Libya” at FrontPage today, a panel including Michael Ledeen, Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, Walid Phares and me explores what American “” and Western “” interests are served by the coalition’s war against Libya. The answer: none.
Robert Spencer, let us begin with you. What is your position on the coalition campaign, with U.S. involvement, against Gaddafi?
Spencer: As the U.S. fired over one hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya Saturday, the objective seems clear. Barack Obama declared that “we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy.” He explained: “Today we are part of a broad coalition. We are answering the calls of a threatened people. And we are acting in the interests of the United States and the world.” But he didn’t explain how acting forcibly to remove Muammar Gaddafi would indeed be in America’s interests. And that is a case that is not as easily made as it might appear to be.
How could removing Gaddafi not be in America’s interests? It is unlikely that he will be succeeded by Thomas Jefferson. The fact that Gaddafi is a reprehensible human being and no friend of the U.S. does not automatically turn his opponents into Thomas Paine.
Obama has affirmed his support for “the universal rights of the Libyan people,” including “the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech, and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny,” but he has never specified who in Libya is working to uphold and defend those rights. He has praised “the peaceful transition to democracy” that he says is taking place across the Middle East, and yet the countries where uprisings have taken place have no democratic traditions or significant forces calling for the establishment of a secular, Western-style republics.
Eastern Libya, where the anti-Gaddafi forces are based, is a hotbed of anti-Americanism and jihadist sentiment. A report by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center reveals that over the last few years, more jihadists per capita entered Iraq from Libya than from any other Muslim country — and most of them came from the region that is now spearheading the revolt against Gaddafi.
That may explain why Libyan protesters have defaced Gaddafi’s picture with the Star of David, the hated symbol of the Jews, whom the Koran designates as the “strongest in enmity” toward the Muslims. There has been a notable absence among the protesters of anything equivalent to “Don’t Tread On Me” flags or other signs that what the uprising is really all about is establishing the ballot box and the give-and-take of open-society politics. The Libyan protesters have chanted not “Give me liberty or give me death!,” but “No god but Allah!”
Abu Yahia al-Libi, a Libyan who heads up al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, has warmly praised the uprising in his homeland, calling on Libyans to murder the tyrant and crowing: “Now it is the turn of Gaddafi after he made the people of Libya suffer for more than 40 years.” He said that removing Gaddafi as well as other Middle Eastern autocrats was “a step to reach the goal of every Muslim, which is to make the word of Allah the highest” — that is, to establish a state ruled by Islamic law.
And America’s Tomahawk cruise missiles will have helped bring about such a state in Libya.
Pacepa: I fully agree with Robert Spencer.
There are few people on earth who want to see Gaddafi removed from power more than I do. I could write a book about my reasons, and maybe someday I will. Here I will just say that, after I was granted political asylum by President Carter (1978), Gaddafi set a $2 million bounty on my head because I had revealed his secret efforts to arm international terrorists with bacteriological and other weapons of mass destruction. But my personal animus against Gaddafi is my own policy, and it should not have anything to do with the policy of the U.S. Nor should the personal hatred for Gaddafi on the part of other Americans, such as those whose relatives he killed at the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin (1986), in the Pan Am Flight 103 at Lockerbie (1988) or elsewhere, be raised to the level of U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S., policy toward Libya””and any other country””should defend and promote only the interests of the United States. Unfortunately, the current events taking place in Libya show that our administration does not have any coherent foreign policy toward that country, and that U.S. foreign policy simply blows with the prevailing wind. […]
Ledeen: A week ago I wrote a little blog wondering what Obama might do to prevent everyone from concluding he’s a wimp. I confessed that this thought worried me quite a bit, as it had in the 1970s when Carter’s name became inseparably tied to “wimp.” Every author falls in love with his own words, but I hope to be forgiven for saying that I was right to worry.
I quite agree with both Robert Spencer and General Pacepa, both of whom remind us of my grandmother’s famous bit of folk wisdom, “things are never so bad that they can’t get worse.” Indeed, both of them raise the truly paradoxical and terrible possibility that we may “win” in Libya, only to find that we have made things worse: worse for American interests, worse for the Libyan people, worse for the whole region, which hardly needs to get even worse. […]
Phares: […] I do agree with Mr. Spencer that many jihadists have been recruited from Libya, and particularly from its eastern provinces. I also agree with General Pacepa that Western policies towards Gaddafi’s regime were incoherent. And I certainly agree with Dr. Ledeen that US policy should support true democratic forces and uprisings in the region from Iran to the Arab world.
In short I would have advised for a different set of US global strategies in the Middle East. We should have backed the Iranian Green Revolution in 2009, the Cedars Revolution as it struggles against Hezbollah, and Darfur in its liberation drive against the Jihadist regime in Khartoum. In Egypt, we should have clearly sided with the secular youth and Copts, as they asked for a new constitution. In Iraq, we should have been clear in supporting reformist and secular forces. […]