In an extraordinary exposition of international policy, three of the world’s most powerful leaders, David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, today published a joint letter in their respective national newspapers, The Times, USA Today and La Figaro.
Below is an extract which highlights their main points. However, what is far more interesting is what they are saying between the lines.
Alongside the extract, I have provided a humorous interpretation of each statements true meaning. While at the end, I comment on a development in Obama’s Foreign Policy which is both consistent, yet extraordinary.
“It is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power.”
It is impossible for us to have a relationship with this oil rich state, while the man we bombed, from 30,000 ft, remains stubbornly in place.
“It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government.”
We want you to believe that it was a democratic uprising not a tribal rebellion and we’re not answering questions on Tiananmen Square.
“The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement. It would be an unconscionable betrayal.”
Having encouraged them to attack Gaddafi, we can’t back out now.
“So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds.”
We didn’t have an exit strategy.
“Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders.”
Benghazi has us over a barrel and is refusing to deal with Tripoli, even on the basis of a new constitution.
“For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.”
Mission Creep is his fault not ours.
“At that point, the United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Gaddafi has destroyed — to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society.”
We’re the good guys. We hope this doesn’t become a new Somalia. If it does, we’ll blame Gaddafi, while denying the fact that the first day of the uprising included the fire-bombing of two police stations.
“Britain, France and the United States will not rest until the UN Security Council resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their own future.”
We cannot lose face on this one. Resolution 1973 has been implemented, but we want to give the impression that there was an end-game written into the resolution, in order that we can be seen to acting on behalf of a higher moral purpose than our own embarrassment.
As you can see the letter is fairly shallow and full of propaganda. It reveals more about their weakness than their strength. It acts as a public commitment to their action, in the wishful thinking that this will sufficiently affect the Tripoli regime, so as to overthrow the dictator.
The most interesting aspect of this business is the way in which Obama became involved. He was an initial sceptic of the offensive, but became involved when an international consensus came together against Gaddafi.
The letter was written by Sarkozy and Cameron and sent to Obama out of courtesy, yet Obama requested that his name be added.
Even though the operation has now gone wrong, he has strengthened his bond with his British and French allies. This is consistent with his policy that international consensus is required for interventionist military action. Yet it also goes beyond that.
After three wars and ten years of confrontation with the west, the moral arguments for removing Saddam Hussein were massively greater than those used for removing Gaddafi. For example, last year’s uprising in Benghazi, when they rioted and attacked the police, did not result in genocide, so the justification for today’s military action was based only on Gaddafi’s rhetoric.
Yet the great difference between this action and the one in Iraq is that Iraq had no international consensus, whereas this one does. Even though the decision to back the UN resolution was made by the Arab League during the stress of their own uprisings, it is still a consensus.
Iraq was illegitimate, while Libya is legitimate, even though Iraq was arguably right, while Libya is arguably wrong.
So for Obama, the question of whether the action is right or wrong is less important than whether the international community is united. Consensus and coalition is more important to him than the removal of a dictator.
To Obama, the consensus achieved by Resolution 1973 marks a “crossing of the Rubicon” for the International Community. It means that future consensus will be easier to achieve. That must be a good thing.
However, we’re now bogged down in a relatively pointless conflict, with no clear way forward. We’ve cut off 2% of the world’s oil supply at a time of economic fragility. We’re spending billions on military action, when we should be paying off our deficits. An objective view would consider this to be madness.
The price of achieving consensus has been very expensive indeed. And it’s still not over yet.