Our Quote of the Day comes from Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor in chief of Atlantic LIVE, on the meaning of Libya if — as expected — Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and his regime are toppled. Here’s a chunk of the must-read-in-full post:
I was skeptical of the Libyan intervention by the US and the rest — but the Tuesday night when President Obama authorized action, I expressed cautious support, understanding that the humanitarian costs of letting the siege of Benghazi unfold outweighed other factors. The US military raised concerns about managing a limited conflict where the authorization for action might lead to a long drawn-out stalemate with Qaddafi, who eventually might be able to dig himself a back door of support with nations like Russia, China, Brazil and India.
The Pentagon’s counsel in this case was important — because the scenario the military sketched out could have come to pass — and the impact on America’s credibility would have been negative.
As it turns out, the combination of intelligence support provided by the US, the technical and financial and logistics support provided behind the scenes by Qatar and the UAE, the military interventions by French and British forces, and more helped give the Libyan rebels an opportunity to regroup after early setbacks and push Qaddafi’s forces back steadily and firmly to the battle inside Tripoli that we saw last night. A key part of the success were the Berbers organizing their village militias west of Tripoli and pushing towards Qaddafi from one direction while the Benghazi-based rebels pushed from the other — putting Tripoli in a vise.
Barack Obama’s gamble in providing limited support for a conflict, in which other countries played lead roles, now seems like a winning move. It’s hard to replicate the conditions of Libya in other cases because Qaddafi had a habit of making unnecessary enemies — most importantly in the Arab League, whose vote in favor of imposing a No Fly Zone over Libya was the trigger that led to everything else that has been possible.
But as in the case of those who cheered the downfall of the dictator Saddam Hussein and didn’t ask questions about the bigger consequences of that event, it’s important that after rejoicing that a monstrous dictator is on the run that folks get serious about a playbook that will keep the hopes and aspirations of the Libyan people moving forward rather than backward.
Indeed: this is part of the problem with events such of this in terms of those who cheer them on, governments and the media. The turbulent overthrow, the human drama, the win/lose struggle are the components that get the most media, international activist and international government attention.
And then comes the more low key, in some ways as difficult part: constructing what comes next so that what has been toppled never returns again whether in the same form or a morphed form. Clemons concludes about Obama:
What Obama’s intervention accomplished was giving Libyans an opportunity to own the outcome. Obama kept the US military footprint relatively small — occasionally getting involved in unhelpful Western posturing that took the cameras off the Libyan rebels and putting them on the West — but on the whole, Obama kept his game to one of trying to tilt the odds, not guarantee outcomes.
But in this political season just watch what Clemons points to be turned into a negative by partisans. Clemons sees a lesson in how Obama approached it:
This is the same kind of approach that the international community needs to take as Libya takes its next steps. Give support, technical counsel and advice if asked, but be respectful of the process that is now going to have to evolve inside Libya to include many players and groups that have been excluded from power for decades.
That means being there if needed — but as [ British Prime Minister David] Cameron implied, not making Libya’s next steps about us — but rather making sure that the leaders of the next government control their own reigns.
Read the post in its entirety.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.