WASHINGTON – Last week, American media reported that President Obama disappeared. On Friday nine days ago he declared that Gaddafi must go, yet he was not heard from after that. The Republicans accused him of playing golf. The media criticized him for finding the time to appear next to ESPN’s sportscaster and guess the results of the US college basketball championship, while keeping mum on the Libyan affair or Japan disaster. One of the headlines referred to the president as No-bama.
Donald Trump, who is trying to push his way into the presidential race, made headlines when he said Obama should take a plane to Tokyo. That was a wild exaggeration, of course. Yet the US president, who declared that Gaddafi must go, could have stayed away from the sports channel while Gaddafi retook almost all of Libya over the past week.
Gaddafi was not the only Arab ruler who ignored the American president’s demand not to act violently against protestors and promote political reform. Saudi King Abdullah, who saw what happened to Mubarak, decided this won’t happen in Saudi Arabia. Notably, as opposed to Egypt, which receives some billion and a half dollars from the US in annual aid, the Saudis are America’s main oil suppliers.
Abdullah did not wish to retire alongside Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh. He dispatched Saudi troops to Bahrain in order to contend with protestors there. Obama called the Saudi and Bahraini kings and claimed that violence against the demonstrators will boomerang. Yet the desert kings did not listen to the president. After that, Yemeni officials also started to slaughter protestors on the streets of Sana’a.
Obama threatened Gaddafi, yet while US troops are being worn out in Afghanistan and Iraq, with American money being spent wildly in these countries, he did not want any involvement in Libya. Such intervention, he believed, could boost Arab hostility towards the US. Moreover, his counter-terrorism advisor warned that Gaddafi is capable of avenging military intervention via a terror campaign.
Defense Minister Robert Gates also objected to any intervention and warned of the difficulties inherent in imposing an aerial siege. For days, the Arab League, the Brits and the French pressed for action. The Russians, Chinese, Indians and Germans resisted. The Americans did not really press, and nothing happened.
US lets others take leadSo what titled the balance in Washington in favor of military action? According to the New York Times, this happened when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton changed her mind and became convinced that action must be taken. She reached the conclusion that without international involvement, Libya may experience genocide. If there is one thing that her husband, Bill Clinton, regrets about his presidency, it’s the decision not to send troops to Rwanda – a decision that would have averted genocide there.
Hillary enlisted two close female associates of Obama to the cause: UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Special Assistant to Obama Samantha Power. On Thursday, Obama was convinced that the US must act, and that evening America already promoted a decision at the UN Security Council.
Yet even after the decision, Obama did not appear too enthused about a military move against Libya, and made it clear that the US will not dispatch American troops to fight on Libyan soil. While the US has several vessels in the Mediterranean, the operation’s lead was taken by France and Britain. While President Sarkozy sounded enthusiastic about ordering French fighter jets to bomb Libya, Obama was less excited. Hence, in the first phase of the campaign, America’s assistance amounted to cruise missiles fired at air defense systems.
Indeed, when President Obama addressed the Libya operation from Brazil the other night, he used the word “coalition” five times and the word “international” five times – to make it clear to all that America is not taking the leading.
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