Distorting the Present
Leadership in the US may not be aware of the extent to which Libyans, especially those on the ground in Libya, striving, against appalling odds and at horrific cost of loss of human life and property, to create a free democratic, unified civil state, are perplexed and dumbfounded at the continued issuance of mixed messages, reversals and lack of coherence of the statements coming out of the mouths of various officials in Washington. An example is the lack of clear statements as to the reasons for the movement of hugely expensive military assets in and around the Mediterranean, which has Libyans on both sides of the struggle and their neighbors wondering as to the motives of the US Government for such moves.
The deliberations by White House officials on what actions the US should take to assist those seeking the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi are conducted as if considerations of US foreign policy are at play here, when it is clear to the rest of us, that the US does not have a policy with regard to the events presently unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa.
Sins of Omission
Of the many sins of omission stemming from the lack of a considered and thought through US foreign policy for the region two stand out.
From the beginning of an uprising which seeks the overthrow of the incumbent head of state, up to and including his overthrow, the US administration has shown itself promiscuous in its willingness to continually switch sides, based on its betting on any one day as to which side will win out. This is unnerving for players on both sides of the struggle, and for allies and onlookers. Those seeking the overthrow of the dictator lose morale, allies lack leadership, nations willing to offer assistance are unable to do so, and the incumbent misinterprets such messages as signs of weakness.
The second example of a sin of omission has much more impact on the actors involved in the strife and on the effect it may have on the eventual outcome of the conflict. Specifically, where Libya is concerned, the US has announced that it is talking to groups both inside and outside the country. By adopting this strategy, the US has the potential to cause untold damage to the process whereby a clear, unified, single leadership emerges from those opposing Colonel Gaddafi’s rule. In choosing to announce that it is talking to groups outside and inside the country, the US would appear to wish to effect the outcome of the process, in effect wanting to keep a hand on the scales, in an effort to ensure that Washington’s man is mounted to the seat of power. The incalculable damage this has done to the process of creating credible, stable governments in Iraq and Afghanistan is clear to all.
Errors in Commission
The result of such misguided and historically out of tune policies is to assist into power a person who is ineffective in that role because the person has little or no mandate from the people and lacks credibility with them. The imposition from outside of the imperialist’s favoured man subverts the development of a stable political process for decades to come. No country would willingly wish this upon themselves.
This imperialist behaviour on the part of the United States undermines its credibility with free, thinking people, and is only favoured by political opportunists who wish further harm American interests. The US needs to discard policies which were formulated during the cold war, which may not have been effective then but which in the present time fail to provide Washington with a set of lenses through which to view current events in the Middle East, thus rendering the US helpless to act in a way that reflects an accurate assessment of the realities on the ground. The mindset with which policy makers and officials in the US view the present day Middle East is through the eyes of a superpower, whereas what events in the region require is for America to act from the standpoint of being a highly respected beacon of democracy, able to offer clear leadership in pursuit of the values America holds dear.
The US, therefore, needs to speedily and quickly adopt a foreign policy which seeks to fully support the emergence of democracy in the region, which temporarily puts aside its interests in the region, and which works to provide a partnership with a single group which identifies itself as the authentic voice of the free Libyan people and to engage in a dialogue with that group.
Even before America talks about military force and Libya in the same breath, the US must ask what free Libyans would like by way of military assistance, and engage in dialogue with them, and America’s allies, as to what can be provided and under what circumstances.
Shop Soiled Goods
Two outcomes of the present US policy, if what constitutes the current American approach to the situation in Libya can be dignified as policy and not something which is ad hoc, are the following.
Firstly to discussions among officials in Washington and with the EU member countries about possible use of military force, without discussing this in advance with the free Libyans themselves, serves only to alienate Libyans outside Tripoli and to inflate the Colonel, and add fuel to his assertions that the uprising is a product of a US led plot to colonize Libya for its oil.
The second outcome has potentially long term damaging effects on Libya and on the emerging democracies in the region whether or not Colonel Gaddafi is overthrown. This damage will occur if the US insists on pursuing its present desire to talk to groups inside and outside Libya. One has to wonder if one of those groups includes the Colonel himself.
There are two actions America must take immediately if it wishes to be seen as a legitimate and respected voice in the region.
The first, on a domestic level, is convene a panel charged with formulating a policy which addresses what is happening presently in the Middle East and North Africa in a coherent and straightforward manner. This policy must, at its heart, separate America’s desire to support the ongoing emergence of fully democratic states for the first time in the Arab world from America’s strategic and oil interests in the region. It is only with the formulation of this policy, which reflects the current realities in the Middle East, that America will be able to offer strong and consistent leadership, which the present crisis in Libya, and impeding uprisings, require and around which America’s allies, and nations willing and eager to assist, can rally, and out of which can come effective and concerted action, which will assure security in the region.
For, let it be clear in the mind of everyone, including the minds of those who still impose power upon their populations, that stable, homogeneous, fully democratic states in the Middle East and North Africa are by far and away the best parties with whom America can work in the long term to assure America’s strategic and oil interests.
The second, on an international level, is to appoint a special envoy who is charged with establishing the necessary channels for dialogue and support; with the implementation of American policy towards the insurgencies and emerging democracies, and with reporting the content and nature of these dialogues back to Washington.
The uncertainties and complexities of the present situation in Libya are bound to be repeated in future uprisings in the region. Sound policies established now will serve America’s aims and interests for a long time to come.