From the moment Moammar Gaddafi started his vicious military campaign against his people, French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of confronting the Libyan madman. While President Obama thought about what to do, Sarkozy met with members of the Libyan opposition at the Elysee Palace on March 10 to support an overthrow of the Libyan leader. Soon thereafter, France became the first country to formally recognize the Libyan opposition group “The Interim Transitional National Council.”
Sarkozy’s government started planning for a No Fly Zone over Libya before the thought of a UN resolution or NATO endorsement was pushed upon the world stage.
While the French were leading the world to confront Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi’s brutal air and ground attacks, the indecisive Obama Administration was “weighing their options and discussing the issue” as one official said.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were surprised when British Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed Sarkozy’s No Fly Zone on March 11. And the White House had still not decided what to do about Libya when the Arab League endorsed the idea on March 12.
America’s sidelined spectator status during a developing foreign policy crisis highlighted Obama’s strategy to make the United States equal among many and not unique within the international community. Obama blinked and democracy seekers around the world have taken note of America’s timidity. The U.S. inaction in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia will surely encourage despots and may even send the unfortunate message to human rights activists that America will not support their bravery.
Sarkozy and the Arab League took control of the world stage after watching the indecisive Obama Administration hem and haw over what to do about a madman shelling his people. Obama met with his national security team multiple times only to disclose more meetings and deliberation. Sarkozy had promised to formally establish diplomatic relations by exchanging ambassadors between Paris and Benghazi before Obama decided what to do. And Britain’s Cameron seemingly left the United States out of his planning when he proclaimed, “It’s important that the countries of Europe show political will, show ambition and show unity in being clear that Col. Gaddafi must go. His regime is illegitimate.” World leaders were reading the clues coming from Washington and deciding to act without the U.S.
By the time Obama decided to seek support from the United Nations, our Ambassador Susan Rice was left on the sidelines because the French, British and Arab League had already written a draft resolution. When the votes were finally called in the Security Council, Susan Rice and the Obama team had failed to convince India, Germany and Brazil to support the No Fly Zone Resolution. So much for an administration that had promised to lead the world.
“The turning point was really the Arab League statement on Saturday (March 12),” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on March 16. “That was an extraordinary statement in which the Arab League asked for Security Council action against one of its own members.” But the Obama team had still not acted a full week after the Arab League statement. State Department officials say Hillary Clinton was pushing President Obama to do something but was being told to slow down. “S was frustrated and embarrassed” by the lack of U.S. action, one official told me using the lingo S for Secretary of State.
While some Obama supporters defend the President’s delay by saying that a President must “take their time and be deliberate” about military decision making of this magnitude, it was an uneasy President Obama that was left to read a teleprompter statement voicing support for the Libyan opposition a full 7 days after the Arab League had done it. Unlike Obama’s base of support in the U.S., the French centre-left opposition is largely supportive of Sarkozy’s leadership on Libya. Jake Tapper of ABC News tweeted that protesters were already gathering at the White House to demand that Obama stop any U.S. military involvement in Libya.
Obama’s indecisiveness and lack of resolve infuriated the right and his decision to follow the Europeans and the Arab League into a No Fly Zone has angered the left. The President and his team must decide if they will retreat in the face of our international obligations or live up to his promise that “The U.S. will not sit idly by”. The simple fact is that the U.S. did sit idly by while a madman attacked his people with military aircraft. Obama either is strategically withdrawing America from the world stage or crippled with indecision. Vacillation and fear are terrible messages to send to our enemies.