Obama and the Arab Spring

Earlier this year, we were jubilant when Tunisia ejected Zine El-Abidel Ben Ali, and even more so when the people of Egypt soon after booted Hosni Mubarak from power. As defenders of freedom and the will of the people, we were elated to see these two countries rise up and overthrow their tyrannical dictators. Conservatives on the other hand, were critical of the White House’s position, warning of dire consequences if we allow our Arab “allies” to be toppled.

But with Libya, things were different, due primarily to American military presence. Most liberals either held their tongues, or protested it as “Another NATO/U.S. act of aggression,” or as “Another war for oil.” Whether or not either of those have merit (more on that later), the end result is that the Libyan People are now free to chart their own course for the first time in almost 42 years. This was achieved with minimal loss of life, relatively little expense, and not a single American casualty. That is unprecedented.

The casus beli for America’s role in the Libyan conflict was to prevent Col. Muammar Qaddafi from advancing on Benghazi, a city of almost 700,000, where defiant rebels and civilians were sitting ducks. Qaddafi himself announced; “We are coming tonight, and we will have no mercy.” The U.S. and NATO intervened, and the rest is history. Yes, thousands died on both sides, but nobody has ever made a compelling argument that had we not intervened, the body count would have been lesser. That’s simply not plausible. Qaddafi promised a bloodbath, and the NATO forces averted one.

Benghazi was spared the wrath of Qaddafi’s armies, and Qaddafi himself is now a relic of 20th Century African history… the same as the cannibalistic Idi Amin of Uganda, the blatantly racist, defender of apartheid Pik Botha of South Africa, and Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the defunct Central African Empire (who spent more on his own coronation ceremony as “Emperor” than an entire year’s GNP of his poverty-stricken country).

I have always believed, that the two truly noble uses for maintaining a standing army, are for self-defense and humanitarian purposes. It still grieves me that the U.S. didn’t deploy our military during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, or now, in the still-ongoing human rights catastrophe in Darfur. Yet in the case of Libya, president Obama saw what was all but inevitable; the crushing of a popular revolt by Libyans fed up with Qaddafi’s iron fist, so he intervened.

The media for the most part, played it straight, if not a little “down.” Fox News of course daily predicted failure for Obama, because they claim it proves his “hypocrisy” in opposing the overthrow of Saddam, while supporting the overthrow of Qaddafi. Never mind of course that Obama didn’t lie us into that conflict, we placed NO boots on Libyan soil, and not a single American has been killed… Oh, and he didn’t put the cost on the American VISA card either. If anything, the way NATO and the U.S. handled Libya will become a textbook case for generations to come on how you DO remove a despot — 1) Make sure you’re on the side of the people, 2) don’t appear as invaders, rather than supporters, and 3) don’t set up camp! Our invasion and occupation of Iraq was the biggest military blunder in modern American history, and the way Obama managed the Libyan campaign makes a mockery of the arrogant militarism of the past decade… and it’s many failures.

I’ll be the first to admit, that this president has disappointed me more than once. I strongly oppose his policy on Afghanistan, his position on the new oil pipeline, and mostly, his chronic caving under pressure from the GOP (his latest, the total surrender to industry over the clean air standards is obscene). But he got this one dead-right. He ignored his critics on both the left and right, and kept the pressure on Muammar Qaddafi; the man who personally gave the order to murder 270 innocent people aboard Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. But what’s even more important, is that by doing so, he stuck to a principle that all Americans, both liberal and conservative profess to… namely, that the will of the people is the foundation of freedom. Anybody who wishes to argue on behalf of keeping Qaddafi in power, is welcome to present their best case below in the comments section. I promise to respond.

Which brings me to the subject of oil. Some have suggested (screamed, actually) that our involvement in toppling Qaddafi was all about oil. The oil has been flowing out of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia for decades, so how does removing a thug who already sells his oil on the world market, and risking it on a new as-yet unformed government, give America increased access to their oil? And for that matter, where was this argument last February, when the Obama administration backed the rebels in Cairo and Tunis? Egypt and Tunisia are also natural gas and oil exporting countries, and I never ONCE heard anybody suggest America was only supporting the revolution because we wanted their oil. Same exact situation, same exact results. All three dictators are now gone, and the will of the people has triumphed. The only difference between our policies with Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, is that NATO and the U.S. played an active role in supporting the Libyan revolutionaries, because their chances for success were bleak.

Will the “Arab Spring” be successful in the long run? Will a true Democratic movement break out from Nouakchott to Lahore? Nobody knows. It may in fact lead to some unpleasant events down the road… possibly higher prices at the pump for us, or a more radicalized Islamic Movement across North Africa. But the alternative, was to sit back and watch in mute opposition to what the people of North Africa have risked their lives over — an opportunity for true self-determination, human dignity, freedom from tyranny, and the right to choose their own destiny. All the things our own Founding Fathers risked their lives over. Who are we as a people, if we demand these freedoms for ourselves while denying them for others?

Obama definitely got this one right.