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The Myth Of International Consensus on Libya

Posted on March 22 2011 11:00 am
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Talking heads such as Andrea Mitchell of NBC News have praised President Obama for his “remarkable” achievement in obtaining international consensus to go to war against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The New York Times editors today called the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya “an extraordinary moment in recent history.”

Now it’s all well and good that the United Nations has given President Obama authority to take military action against Libya, but the Constitution contemplates that such authority should come first from Congress irrespective of what the UN might say. Indeed, candidate Obama said as much back in 2007:

The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

That would be an imminent threat to this nation, not Libya.

Moreover, the international consensus that President Obama declared from Brazil was so strong is nothing but. Aside from the fact that his Brazilian host decided to abstain, rather than support, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the international “consensus” is beginning to crumble.

Wasn’t it the supposed support of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference, for example, that ultimately tilted Obama in favor of intervention? If so, will he now get out in light of criticism of the action coming out of the Arab and Muslim world?

Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, condemned the U.S.-led air assault on Libya just a day after it began and called an emergency session in Cairo. Then yesterday Moussa dialed back his criticism somewhat and said the Arab League had “no conflict” with the UN resolution. Protesters in the streets of Cairo had a different idea, however, as they mobbed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in protest during his press conference outside of the emergency session and forced him to retreat back into the Arab League headquarters building.

Even if the Arab League decides to back the military action rhetorically for a time, when will its members put their own  military resources where their mouths are? To date, only Qatar has committed fighter jets.

The Organization of Islamic Conference, which supported UN Security Council Resolution 1973, has now called for

the adoption of a new resolution by the Security Council to annul the provisions of Resolution 1973 as soon as the motives standing behind its adoption have disappeared.

The problem is that the “motives” of various member states supporting Resolution 1973 differ, depending on whom you talk to.

Egypt has decided to steer clear of joining the military action against Libya.

Turkey blocked a bid to have NATO take over command of the operation, called Odyssey Dawn.

Although the African countries Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa voted in favor of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, including its authorization of military force against Libya to save civilian lives, the African Union has since criticized the launching of military operations by U.S. and European countries against the Libyan regime to enforce this very resolution. The African Union’s panel on Libya Sunday demanded an “immediate stop” to all attacks.

China and Russia, which abstained from the UN Security Council vote approving military action in Libya, have publicly criticized the ongoing coalition air strikes in the country. Indeed, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave great talking points to radical Islamists seeking to use the intervention for propaganda and recruiting purposes when he said yesterday:

The [UN] resolution is defective and flawed. It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration does not appear to have its own act together. In fact, not even President Obama seems to know what he wants and how to make it happen. First, Obama himself had said days before the military action commenced that Qaddafi must go. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated that position. And Obama repeated that the United States wants Qaddafi out at a press conference in Chile yesterday, but at the same time said that Qaddafi’s removal was not part of the current military mission.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that attempting to get rid of Qaddafi would not be a good idea, going even further than Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen who said on “Meet The Press” on Sunday that the mission he is overseeing is narrowly focused on ensuring humanitarian support for the civilians and could be achieved even if Qaddafi stayed in power.

Adding even further confusion, Secretary of Defense Gates also said that splitting Libya in two “would be a formula for instability.” But how can we leave Qaddafi in place, protect the rebels from being eliminated and, at the same time, avoid a de facto split in the country patrolled indefinitely in the air by the U.S. and its coalition partners?

President Obama unwisely decided to wait for an illusory “international consensus” to emerge without clear American leadership.  He deferred to France, rather than grab hold of the issue and drive the result. If the United States had instead taken the lead in attacking Qaddafi’s air defenses, communications facilities and military bases with very targeted drone and cyberattacks while the rebels had the momentum against Qaddafi, the despot would most likely have been gone by now and we wouldn’t be in the middle of a third war in a Muslim country with no clear endgame.

Joseph Klein is the author of a recent book entitled Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations and Radical Islam

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