Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 3.17.11

Still Hungover
Bush foibles make U.S. impotent to help Libya
By Ian Baldwin

After the successful overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the world’s attention has turned to Libyas deranged dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. But while peaceful protestors are slain, and opposition forces lose ground in their northern strongholds, the Obama administration has been mum on committing aid to rebel forces. Why does the global hegemony seem resigned to impotent posturing?

First, U.S. forces are so overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan that deploying troops or aircraft in Libya to stop the civil war is not feasible. Such an action would not only fail logistically, but could embroil the U.S. in a quagmire resembling the current debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, due to a perception that U.S. foreign policy centers on imperialist conquest, many Libyans don’t want the U.S. involved in their struggle.

For years, Libyans have been brainwashed (or informed) by Gaddafi’s state-directed media to despise America with unyielding fervor. Getting involved now would vindicate Gaddafi’s argument that rebel forces in Libya are backed by outside interests.
True, some rebels have expressed a desire to acquire weapons and air support from those willing to help aid their forces, but due to the difficulty of distinguishing pro-government forces from rebels on the ground, giving guns to soldiers in a chaotic environment we know little about could prove counter-productive. After all, lets not forget that we once thought arming Osama bin Laden was prudent foreign policy.

But what is war for if not this? A despotic dictator slaughters his own people while the world watches on CNN. Even if Gaddafi wins swiftly, he may unleash violent retribution on rebel groups after the war is over. Where is the U.S., and why is it not the vigorous beacon of freedom it purports to be? At a juncture when the tide of civil war is turning in Gaddafi’s favor, now would appear to be the critical time to aid rebel forces. But we can’t.

The script unfolding in Libya is exactly what “good” wars are meant for ã the chance to restore a semblance of order to a war-torn country that has been neglected by a corrupt and delusional ruler. But this war cannot be fought by the U.S.

This is the cost of the Bush years ã the cost of pursuing a preemptive foreign policy of adventurism in the Middle East ã and the cost of fighting the war on terror as if it were a war of weapons, and not a war of words. It is now too late for words in Libya, but the Libyan civil war has nothing to do with terrorism. It is a just war being waged by Libyans in an attempt to topple a brutal dictator ã a cause the U.S. cannot support because of a lack of political will at home and a lack of available military resources abroad.

As it stands, the best bet for Libya would be decisive action by an international coalition force sanctioned by the U.N. and NATO. Obama’s riveting speech two years ago in Egypt signaled the dawning of a new day in U.S. foreign policy, but this new approach to policy cannot come to fruition until it can shake the hangover of the Bush years. Republican foreign policy has been centered for years on toppling dictators in foreign lands and averting the deaths of innocent civilians. But what do Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have to say about Libya? “Keep Going.” The sad irony of this Republican agenda is that we no longer can. The failure of our foreign policy in the Middle East and subsequent loss of U.S. credibility in the world has straitjacketed us in a way that renders the U.S. impotent in the face of mass killings.

So much for the hair of the dog that bit us.


Ian Baldwin of Eugene is a recent political science graduate of the UO.