Who will be Libya's version of Karzai?
And what will Obama do in the next crisis, if the Saudi regime oppresses its opponents with Gadhafi-style force?
Barack Obama is the first U.S. president who was born to an African father. The African Command of the U.S. Army stresses this in its propaganda. The command's headquarters is in Germany, since no African capital is willing to host it, and its message is assisting local forces, as opposed to bases and occupation.
The founder and commander of AFRICOM, William Ward, former security coordinator between the Israelis and the Palestinians, is an African-American general who was appointed under former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He ends his term in a week, yet he may still still have the chance to command an operation for Obama in Libya.
Rice, who was born in Alabama, projected her experience in the American south onto the global arena (and Israeli-Arab relations ). Obama took to heart the story of citizens' rights and the federal government's intervention against racist governors in the south. But the United Nations versus Muammar Gadhafi is not the White House versus the governors of Arkansas and Mississippi. Obama did not rush to bomb Gadhafi, as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan did 25 years ago. The initial cheers could be swept away by waves of ungrateful criticism, both at home and abroad.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld offered useful reminders of this. He posted the "Rumsfeld documents," which were declassified at his request, on his website to promote his memoirs. As Reagan's envoy to the Middle East, Rumsfeld urged Secretary of State George Shultz in a November 1983 memorandum to get out of the "swamp" of Lebanon, a month after 241 U.S. Marines were killed in the terror attack in Beirut. The Americans had halted the fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and they were being punished for their good deed, even if they committed it for strategic considerations. Rumsfeld's lesson: the Americans, who will always be a target for terror, must not take part in peace-keeping forces and get involved "like an amateur brain surgeon."
Tomorrow will be 20 years since the cease-fire in the first American war against Saddam Hussein. September 11, 2001 sparked the current round of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those wars have been very costly in terms of human life, money and attention. Public patience has worn thin. Critics, like Obama vis-a-vis Iraq, rise to greatness, reach positions of power and suddenly must decide themselves whether to invade and how to withdraw, after rebuilding what they destroyed.
The frustrating pursuit of Al-Qaida's leaders in Tora Bora has not led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, but it has helped prevent more major terror attacks on U.S. territory. The cost of this affair in Afghanistan is still unknown; the country's tribal structure has foiled efforts to wipe out the Taliban. Libya is also tribal. How can Obama know he won't get bogged down in a repeat of Afghanistan or Iraq?
People now demanding that Obama and other Western leaders halt Gadhafi's assault on his own people were just yesterday taking part in the chorus condemning the invasion to oust Saddam, a murderous tyrant a thousand times worse than Gadhafi. For Bush and Rumsfeld's critics, Saddam's cruel repression and ethnic massacres did not justify going to war.
Before the Beirut precedent and the Baghdad precedent, there was the Budapest precedent. The Eisenhower administration misled the rebels in Hungary in 1956, who believed the U.S. administration's verbal support would lead to intervention against Soviet tanks. Since that time, the Americans have been cautious about openly encouraging uprisings, including the one in Iran in 2009.
And who will be Libya's version of Afghan President Hamid Karzai? Will it be the local version of Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman - Musa Kosa, the foreign minister who for years was the head of intelligence and terror? This is what Rumsfeld warned against when he mentioned brain surgery by amateurs. And what will Obama do in the next crisis, if the Saudi regime oppresses its opponents with Gadhafi-style force?