Obama Moved at Warp Speed on Libya

-

Skulls-from-the-Rwanda-Genocide-in-1994.jpgRecently at a dinner hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, former National Security Adviser to two US Presidents Brent Scowcroft stated in response to a question about what Barack Obama should do given the tumult in the Middle East, “President Obama should slow things down, move slowly, cautiously and not get swept into the emotional currents we see rising up in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.” (picture to right depicts skulls from the Rwanda genocide)
President Obama has been criticized by many on the political left and right for moving too slowly in reacting to Libya — and while I have been one constantly urging caution — there is simply no truth to the notion that Obama dragged his heels in orchestrating action there.
Obama and his team — everyone from Tom Donilon and Denis McDonough who ran a rigorous decisionmaking shop comprised of dozens of deputies and principals level meetings; to the team of Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, Tommy Vietor, Gail Smith, Dan Shapiro, Michael McFaul, Dennis Ross, Jake Sullivan at State, and others from Treasury and DoD did a commendable job of outreach respectively to policy wonks, to national security journalists, and to Members of the Legislative Branch and their staffs; to the Diplomatic heavy lifting done by Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice; to the heavy internal molding of options and consideration of downside risk by Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Gates — everyone moved at warp speed compared to other potential and real humanitarian disasters to with the US and international community needed to respond.
Consider these cases:

1. It took three years for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia — while it took nine days after the outbreak of fighting for the UN Security Council to create a committee monitoring violations in Libya
2. Also in the case of the former Yugoslavia, it took more than one year to get an asset freeze on Bosnia and two years to get a travel ban. Again, it took just nine days to secure an asset freeze and travel ban with regard to Libya.
3. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, it took more than one year after the first bombing of civilians by the Yugoslav Air Force to impose a no fly zone — and just thirty-one days after the Libyan protests began.
4. In the case of Rwanda, an International Criminal Tribunal took seven months to establish vs. nine days in the case of Libya.
5. In Rwanda, no air strikes were ever authorized to protect civilians vs. the 31 days it took to get a UN Security Council Resolution imposing a no-fly zone including civilian protection.
6. In the case of Darfur, travel bans and asset freezes took two years to put in place vs. nine days for Libya.
7. Again with regard to Darfur, a referral to the International Criminal Court took two years while just nine days with Libya.
8. Finally, while Libyan opposition and civilians got protection within thirty-one days from when protests started, Sudan never received civilian protection support.

Thus, by any standard given the long time that transpired before an international consensus took shape and before the President of the United States began to invest his time, Libya and the decisions made by the Obama White House — whether one liked or disliked those decisions — happened at an incredible rate.
I’m with Scowcroft and think that there is a tsunami of change happening now and that the US needs to be careful about getting drawn in too deeply into any particular part of this transition. We need to weigh our actions carefully and not make the change happening about us. The lens needs to remain on the people fighting for a different future.
All that said, Obama and his team are moving at a comparatively lightning rate of speed on Libya — and simultaneously managing many other issues and crises at the same time ranging from ongoing concerns about Egypt, new problems in Syria and Yemen, and of course there is the triple nightmare disaster in Japan. And did I mention that the North Koreans have been sending signals that they may start misbehaving again if we don’t help them with their fuel, energy, and cash needs?
I don’t agree with everything this White House does — but I have tremendous respect for the fact that Obama and his team have changed the dynamics of response to potential and real mass human tragedy.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

22 comments on “Obama Moved at Warp Speed on Libya

  1. Tank Man says:

    OT a bit, but we have been talking about national priorities and the cost of war and maintaining empire.
    How would your budget look? http://public-consultation.org/exercise/
    My first run through my 2015 budget had a -21.9B budget deficit and 100% long-term solution for social security.
    Agribiz (large farms only), intelligence, defense and Afghan/Iraq took big cuts. I increased funding in education, medical, science and energy research.
    Left

    Reply

  2. Paul Norheim says:

    Paul D. Miller elaborates on the point I made above:
    “One diplomat [Peter Galbraith] told Power she shouldn’t let Libya become “Obama’s
    Rwanda,” according to the New York Times. Rwanda looms darkly in the liberal conscience
    as a powerful prod of guilt, whispering “Next time, do something. Do anything. Anything is
    better than nothing.”
    (…) But Libya is not Rwanda. Rwanda was genocide. Libya is a civil war. The Rwandan
    genocide was a premeditated, orchestrated campaign. The Libyan civil war is a sudden,
    unplanned outburst of fighting. The Rwandan genocide was targeted against an entire,
    clearly defined ethnic group. The Libyan civil war is between a tyrant and his cronies on one
    side, and a collection of tribes, movements, and ideologists (including Islamists) on the
    other. The Rwandan genocidiers aimed to wipe out a people. The Libyan dictator aims to
    cling to power. The first is murder, the second is war. The failure to act in Rwanda does not
    saddle us with a responsibility to intervene in Libya. The two situations are different.
    Advocates of the Libyan intervention have invoked the “responsibility to protect” to justify
    the campaign. But R2P is narrowly and specifically aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes,
    and crimes against humanity on a very large scale. It does not give the international
    community an excuse to pick sides in a civil war when convenient. Qaddafi has certainly
    committed crimes against humanity in this brief war, but R2P was designed to stop
    widespread, systematic, sustained, orchestrated crimes. If Qaddafi’s barbarity meets that
    threshold, the administration hasn’t made the case yet, and I’m not convinced. (…)
    Historical analogies are sloppy thinking. U.S. policymakers went to war in Korea and Vietnam
    because they wanted to avoid another Munich. Liberals believe that Iraq is another Vietnam.
    Paleoconservatives worry that Libya is another Iraq, while liberals fear it is another Rwanda.
    These are rhetorical shortcuts that partisans use to excuse themselves from having to think
    very carefully or learn the details of each new case. One hopes the strategists in the White
    House will resist that temptation, but judging from Obama’s speech, they aren’t.”
    More here:
    http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/03/30/libya_is_not_rwanda

    Reply

  3. DonS says:

    ” . . .to operate with war speed ” @4:09
    A typo or Freudian slip? We type, you decide.

    Reply

  4. DonS says:

    “OT – but as there is no comment sections under Dick Cheney’s little night out with the girls.” (rc)
    Just as well, don’t you think? How much can you say about the ultimate in bad taste?

    Reply

  5. rc says:

    OT – but as there is no comment sections under Dick Cheney’s little night out with the girls.
    So I guess there is little chance of mentioning the ‘war criminal’ subject there where it belongs imo.
    Or that beauty is skin deep and the skulls pictured here in this post might just as well be Iraqi women and children from a time long ago (in about 2003) when the U.S. did not give a damn about civilian deaths in their crazy-man wars and trade embargo’s.
    Cheney’s looking older and hollowing out it seems — I hope the bastard has a hard time in hell when his time comes.
    Now switching to papering (money) over the cracks.
    It is a bit rich for the U.S to be complaining about tightly managed currencies being a ‘flaw’ in the global economy.
    About as much a ‘flaw’ in the global system as U.S. virtual printing presses cranking out the never-ending ‘coffee-pot’ of Greenbacks 24×7 for the Saudi’s to soak up with their oil sales.
    The U.S. issue with Iran is not some humanitarian concern with nuclear energy — it is the oil exports that the Iranian banks are transacting without using the $US. That is the strategic risk — i.e. the crash of the printing press game!
    “The United States treasury secretary has told a G20 meeting that countries should have flexible exchange rates in a thinly veiled attack on China which Washington says is using tight currency controls to gain an economic advantage.
    Addressing finance ministers and central bankers in the Chinese city of Nanjing, Timothy Geithner said controlled exchange rate regimes were the flaw of international monetary system.”
    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2011/03/201133173522802893.html

    Reply

  6. DonS says:

    Agree with Dan K, Obama needs to operate with war speed domestically for the middle class. Sadly, this is not on his agenda. Wars are so much more doable than, say, protecting social security, Medicare, the unemployed, the poor.
    We are on a glide path to ’12; it only get’s worse from here on out.

    Reply

  7. Paul Norheim says:

    It is now pretty obvious that the R2P principle, through it’s implementation in the
    Libyan crisis and the turn of events, has become nothing but a code word for “regime
    change”. Which is sad. The potential victims of grand scale massacres and genocide
    in different corners of the world really needed a R2P principle; but the bar should
    have been set much higher. On can predict that it will be much harder to get through
    a UN resolution containing this principle in the future – also when a real genocide is
    in the making.
    What I said above is not an argument against or in favor of the intervention. My point
    is that Libya should not be the showcase for the first implementation of the R2P.

    Reply

  8. DonS says:

    Like we didn’t know,
    ” . . . small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi

    Reply

  9. Paul Norheim says:

    “Washington (CNN) — There is a good chance NATO pressure will encourage Libyan tyrant
    Moammar Gadhafi to leave power, the U.S. NATO commander told Congress Tuesday, but the
    opposition that could come in the Libyan leader’s wake has “flickers” of al Qaeda.
    (…)
    But potential “flickers” of al Qaeda and Hezbollah elements have been seen in intelligence
    regarding the Libyan opposition, which is poised to take power if Gadhafi leaves, Stavridis
    said. However, he added there is no evidence of a significant presence of al Qaeda or other
    terrorist groups. Stavridis is also the commander of U.S. European Command.”
    http://edition.cnn.com/2011/US/03/29/libya.opposition.analysis/index.html

    Reply

  10. rc says:

    Hail Caesar!

    Reply

  11. JohnH says:

    Obama moved at warp speed. Yep, the old “ready-fire-aim syndrome.” And what could possibly go wrong?
    The Russians and Chinese must be elated that the “international community” has potentially embroiled itself in yet another ruinous quagmire.
    And it seemed like such a good idea at the time!

    Reply

  12. Don Bacon says:

    Thank you, DBK, a classic comment.
    I copied it.
    We tried to rouse Steve on this, and obviously we failed.
    It must be like a death-wish to go to a Washington party and talk about the Constitution.
    How boring.

    Reply

  13. DakotabornKansan says:

    Costs of Executive Megalomania
    Behold the majestic power of Article II of the Constitution.
    Obama will ignore any Congressional act restraining U.S. military action in Libya as “an unconstitutional encroachment on executive power,” according to Hillary Clinton.
    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/03/clinton-tells-house-obama-would-ignore-war-resolutions.php
    Steve Clemons doesn

    Reply

  14. Dan Kervick says:

    Now if only the Obama administration can manage to react with the same warp speed alacrity to the impending Congressional program of economic doom that the White House so far meekly and passively accepted.
    Fortunately for the United States, the UK has already run what can serve for us as an experiment on the austerity policies that are now making their way through Congress. And the results are in: consumer confidence collapsing; business confidence collapsing; growth estimates revised sharply downward several times; take home pay down 5%; general fears of a second recession everywhere. UK citizens are now waking up to the nightmare they have unleashed on their country by electing their economically incompetent Tory government. And the Tories are now going to be looking for some way to reverse course with dignity, and back out of their harebrained program based on quack economics – before they drive their economy over a cliff entirely.
    So it is still not too late for Barack Obama to take a strong leadership role in helping the American people learn from the lessons being played out abroad. But so far it looks like the health of the nation’s economy, and the well-being of our indebted, unemployed, underemployed and underwater masses, is purely in the hands of the craven White House political team, whose conception of the national interest extends no further than the calculus of polls and electoral victories.
    It looks to me that this administration

    Reply

  15. Cee says:

    More on Syria
    Why did website linked to Syria regime publish U.S.-Saudi plan to oust Assad?
    The heavy blackout imposed by Syria on coverage of the deadly demonstrations there, including the number of casualties and the extent of the serious damage caused to Ba’ath Party offices in a number of cities, is not hindering another kind of reporting.
    The media there are seeking out details of involvement of “foreign elements” they say are trying to foment a revolution in Syria. These reports impart information about kinds of vehicles these “elements” have used, the weapons in their possession and the means by which they have recruited demonstrators.
    Mourners Daraa – Reuters
    Mourners carrying coffins of protesters killed in Daraa Friday.
    Photo by: Reuters
    The Syrian media have never been as open as they are now in describing the subversives. The sunshine reached new levels with a recent expose by the Champress Internet site, which has close ties to the regime, on a secret Saudi-American plan to topple the government of President Bashar Assad, presented in full.
    According to the report, the plan, which was first broadcast on the Iranian Arabic-language television station Al-Alam, was formulated in 2008 by the Saudi national security advisor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Jeffrey Feltman, a veteran U.S. diplomat in the Middle East who was formerly ambassador to Lebanon and is currently the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.
    The plan as reported divides Syria into large cities, towns and villages. It proposes establishing five recruitment networks: The “fuel” made up of educated and unemployed youths; the “thugs” comprised of criminals, “preferably non-Syrians”; the “ethnic-sectarian” network of young people from ethnic groups who are no older than 22; the “media” network, which will be joined by journalists or activists in civil organizations funded by European countries but not by the United States; and a “capital” network of businesspeople from the large cities.
    Each network would be provided with slogans suited to the type of its activity and will go through training aimed at preparing them for street actions and violence.
    Thus, for example, the thugs would be trained in sniper fire, arson and “murdering in cold blood.” The members of the ethnic network would act to advance interests of their communities, show proof of ethnic discrimination and incite against the regime.
    The journalists would operate the network by means of satellite telephones that can’t be monitored, would be depicted as human rights activists who are demanding not the regime’s fall, but civil society in Syria and they will receive additional training in operating social networks as a means for recruitment.
    As for the businesspeople, the plan reportedly proposes “Holding luxurious parties to be attended by businessmen and during which exclusively Arab Gulf deals and investments are to be made and threatening them with certain sexual relations that are filmed for later blackmailing them.”
    After the recruitment and training phases, which would be funded by Saudi Arabia for about $2 billion, they would be given suitable communications equipment and when about 5,000 activists had been recruited in the large cities, 1,500 in the towns and 500 in the villages, they would begin to act in public.
    The plan also offers answers to revolt-refusers. For example, “If someone says there is a change, the response must be: ‘There is no change at all. This is all a lie.’ If he says change is coming, then the response must be: ‘We have heard this for more than 40 years.'”
    Activists would have to come to central places to create a suitable backdrop for TV and cell phone cameras.
    The “shouters” would have to prepare for two situations. If the security forces start dispersing the assembled demonstrators, their helpers who have hidden in the surroundings must gather quickly and tell the security forces to leave them alone, and if the security forces do not show up then the helpers must create a provocations as though it is they who are dispersing the demonstrators.
    If the security forces start beating up the shouters or any of their supporters, it would have to be filmed for full exploitation.
    It is necessary to prevent any attempt by the regime to reach a compromise by burning the Ba’ath Party offices and damaging symbols of the regime like smashing statues and destroying pictures of Hafez and Bashar Assad.
    The plan also suggests igniting ethnic tensions between groups around the country to stir unrest.
    The formulators of the plan assume President Assad will immediately have to deal with calming the inter-ethnic confrontations and will send senior representatives to the cities and towns, thereby emptying Damascus itself of leadership. Then it will become the capital’s turn to boil over and foment ethnic demonstrations while the “businesspeople” network will have to convince the military leadership to disassociate itself from Assad and establish a new regime.
    The hoped-for outcome is the establishment of a supreme national council that will run the country and terminate Syria’s relations with Iran and Hezbolah.
    Al-Alam names the Dot and Com company headquartered in Jordan as the element behind the recruitment of the demonstrators against the regime and claims this is a company managed by Saudi intelligence, which is subordinate to Bandar bin Sultan. It is perfectly clear why the Iranians took the initiative to publish this detailed plan, as there is nothing like the situation in Syria to provoke a rift between Syria and Saudi Arabia and/or expose American-Saudi collaboration against the backdrop of Saudi military involvement in Bahrain.
    However, why did a semi-official Syrian media outlet decide to publish the plan? Does Damascus fear Saudi involvement in Syria or has someone dropped the ball?
    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/why-did-website-linked-to-syria-regime-publish-u-s-saudi-plan-to-oust-assad-1.352809

    Reply

  16. Steve Clemons says:

    David — I’ve been working too fast on this stuff as well. Thanks much for the catch, now fixed.
    steve

    Reply

  17. David Billington says:

    “and of course there is the triple nightmare disaster in China.”
    You meant Japan. You might add the new concerns about the safety of some nuclear energy
    installations here in the United States.
    “I don’t agree with everything this White House does — but I have tremendous respect for the
    fact that Obama and his team have changed the dynamics of response to potential and real mass
    human tragedy.”
    Certainly the speed and results are remarkable compared to past crises. I don’t think haste is the
    stronger objection here, because the consequences of inaction would have been worse. What
    should be a concern is the perception that the United States isn’t sure of its purpose. The
    perception may be the result of fast-moving events and I hope your sources move soon take the
    necessary steps to remove it.

    Reply

  18. Dan Kervick says:

    “We need better anticipation, better coordination, and we should know which tyrants are most likely to fire on the crowds.”
    You can’t anticipate every kind of chaos. Shit happens, and you just have to respond to it on the fly as best you can.
    Mohamed Bouazizi lit a match in the Middle East on December 17th and started a fire. It’s a fire not even Washington can put out, so they are going for a controlled burn.
    Qaddafi is dead wood. Better to burn him out quickly than let him smolder and flare up for many months or years.

    Reply

  19. erichwwk says:

    “everyone moved at warp speed compared to other potential and real humanitarian disasters to with the US and international community needed to respond.”
    Could one reason for this ‘warp speed” be that not only was this uprising anticipated, but it may have US fingerprints on its instigation?
    Did the US set up Gaddafi in the same way Saddam Hussein was set up in Dessert Storm in 1990?
    [See “In war, some facts less factual-Some US assertions from the last war on Iraq still appear dubious” By Scott Peterson, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 6, 2002 , URL above]
    And what about this?
    Reuters is reporting:
    President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
    By Mark Hosenball (Reuters)
    WASHINGTON | Wed Mar 30, 2011 6:16pm EDT
    (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
    Obama signed the order, known as a presidential “finding”, within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter.
    Rest here: http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USTRE72T6H220110330

    Reply

  20. erichwwk says:

    “everyone moved at warp speed compared to other potential and real humanitarian disasters to with the US and international community needed to respond.”
    Could one reason for this ‘warp speed” be that not only was this uprising anticipated, but it may have US fingerprints on its instigation?
    Did the US set up Gaddafi in the same way Saddam Hussein was set up in Dessert Storm in 1990?
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p01s02-wosc.html
    And what about this?
    Reuters is reporting:
    President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
    By Mark Hosenball (Reuters)
    WASHINGTON | Wed Mar 30, 2011 6:16pm EDT
    (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
    Obama signed the order, known as a presidential “finding”, within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter.
    Rest here: http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USTRE72T6H220110330

    Reply

  21. Don Bacon says:

    Steve, your love for presidential decision-making as the product of a rigorous decision-making shop would be high praise in an oligarchy.
    But the U.S. is supposed to be a democracy, where such decisions when they concern war should be made by the people acting through their representatives.
    If the Constitution had been followed the goals, costs and methods of this new war would have received the benefit of consideration by the people (through their representatives) who actually have to do the heavy lifting of paying for it and doing it. There’s a good chance that the mess we’re seeing now from decisions made at warp speed might have been avoided.
    Turns out that the new decider isn’t any better than the last one. That’s because we shouldn’t have a decider at all, in a democracy.
    Or is that old thinking.

    Reply

  22. questions says:

    The internal to each country legitimacy issues clearly require that the changes not be “about us”, but US interests require the opposite. So there’s one problematic dilemma.
    The ME is going to crash and burn eventually because the stability that dictators engender is a false kind of stability. If aristocracies (in Plato’s sense) have temporal and structural and behavioral limitations, so, too, do tyrannies.
    What matters most as this process burns the land and eventually itself is that the winners are able to be part of the world. The US cannot do so much damage that we are entirely unwelcome or that revenge cycles kick in (this is straight Kant). And this limitation applies regardless of who comes out on top in any single country.
    We’ve burned our bridges with Qaddafi at this point. He cannot rejoin the world, and so our hand is forced. He will have to be deposed. What will take his place needs to be better, but it looks like there’s no guarantee.
    We should be a little more careful with the next round of this circus. Binding ourselves to the deposing of any particular ruler is probably not a good idea until it’s really clear that the dude is gone already.
    It looks like the humanitarian panic may have been something of a push beyond what we might have wanted (events do that sometimes) and so we should be paying our analysts overtime and pizza and free downloads of loud music to keep them awake while they go through flow charts of every country that even might have an opposition.
    We need better anticipation, better coordination, and we should know which tyrants are most likely to fire on the crowds. We should try to pay these guys to leave for island paradises before they start firing on their own people.
    But since the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglee, chance are every country and every thugocracy will have its own path through the mess, will surprise us all, and leave us reacting rather than, ummm, pro-acting.
    Eventually, Spring will give way to summer and we’ll all be too hot, humid, and miserable to want to fight. Crops will need planting and harvesting, and people will have other things to do.
    Normal time and normal life are pretty compelling after a splendid war.

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *