For various reasons — notably past support for dictators — the United States is deeply unpopular in most of the Arab world. Promoting reform and organizing effective development programs can only help build a more favorable image.
And so would effective action to rid Libya of Gadhafi. A “no fly zone” might not be the most effective method in as much as fighter planes are not the dictator’s dominant method of beating back rebels.
He is using helicopters, tanks, loyalist troops and mercenaries imported from sub-Saharan Africa. To counter them militarily, the United States would have to engage in ground combat, which is not an option for a military already fighting two wars.
Better ideas have been pressed on Obama by Republicans such as Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.), including weapons, ammunition, intelligence and training for anti-Gadhafi rebels.
With the right kind of arms — such as shoulder-fired missiles and anti-tank weapons — the rebels might be able to defeat Gadhafi’s forces.
And former Bush administration national security adviser Stephen Hadley has recommended other steps such as offers to recognize the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya, conversion of Gadhafi’s $15 billion in frozen assets as a trust fund for the Libyan people and threats of war crimes trials for those who support Gadhafi.
Of course there is no guarantee that the regime taking over from Gadhafi would be friendly to the United States, but it’s clear that if Gadhafi stays in power, he will be hostile, possibly returning to terrorism.
Obama evidently does not want the United States to be seen as responsible, after Iraq, for toppling another Arab government and having to manage its successor.
But the fact is that he has already taken the fateful step of prescribing an outcome — Gadhafi’s departure.
If he does not take steps to make that happen, the United States will come out looking like a paper tiger, not a world leader.
And, if a bloodbath occurs — and, worse, if Gadhafi survives in power after a bloodbath — it will be 1956 and 1991 all over again.
Clarification: March 28, 2011
The column asserted that Radio Free Europe “cheered on” anti-Communist rebels in Hungary in 1956 and “led them to think America would come to their aid.” Radio Free Europe did not officially endorse the rebellion but acknowledges it aired commentaries creating that impression.