People across the Middle East and North Africa have taken to the streets to demand greater freedom and participation in their governments. Longtime rulers in Egypt and Tunisia have stepped down as a result. Other leaders appear on the precipice of relinquishing power.
In Libya, it has been a different story. After the people of Libya launched a major uprising against their dictator, Muammar Qadhafi, his forces counterattacked. The opposition was clearly outmatched — Qadhafi’s forces were able to retaliate with air power. And, Qadhafi’s brutality is particularly heinous, as he vowed to “cleanse Libya house by house.”
As with its reaction to the Tunisian and Egyptian protests (when the Obama administration waited until it was clear the opposition would prevail) the administration has been indecisive in responding to the Libyan revolt. In this situation, however, the administration may have waited too long.
Instead of acting when the opposition forces had the momentum, the U.S. hesitated, waiting
first for an international coalition to form and for permission from the United Nations and the Arab League. As a result, Qadhafi forces took back most of the country.
The U.S. response seemed confused and poorly coordinated. Officials in our government weren’t on the same page, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen saying that “[t]his is not about going after Gaddafi,” and President Obama saying that the tyrant “needs to go.” (Recently, the president has seemed to even walk back from this basic position.)
I believe President Obama was correct that Qadhafi needs to go and he was correct to use military force to try to stop Qadhafi.
But, the president should not have waited for over a week after the U.S. began military action to try to explain to the American people, and to the men and women engaged in our military mission, exactly what he was trying to accomplish.
He has described international efforts as a humanitarian mission — but how are humanitarian ends achieved if Colonel Qadhafi is allowed to remain in power and possibly kill or imprison those who rose up against up? What message does that send not just to the Libyan people, but others in the region?
Indeed, if the leader of the free world — the President of the United States — doesn’t follow up on his words and see that Qadhafi goes, the world would look upon President Obama as an ineffectual leader and the United States as a weak country, one that is unwilling to live up to its rhetoric.
The U.S. cannot intervene in every conflict; however, Qadhafi is an enemy of the U.S. and a clear example of a tyrant. He has enriched himself at the expense of his people and supported terrorism across the world. A former Libyan official recently said that Qadhafi ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988 — a terrorist act that resulted in 270 innocent deaths. His regime was also linked to a 1986 bombing of a club in Germany in which two American servicemen were killed and many others injured. If he stays in power, the U.S. will be blamed, an opportunity to remove an enemy from power will have been lost, and others around the world who aspire to have freedom will have reason to doubt they can count on us.
When an organic democratic uprising sprouts in a place that is not free, and the United States has the capacity to make a difference, we should stand firmly with the reformers. It’s regrettable in this case the president may have responded with too little too late. We can only hope not.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.go.