May 31, 2011
Obama May be Getting Tough with GaddafiBy James G. Wiles
It's crunch time for Moammar Gaddafi and President Obama. Will Gaddafi stay or will he go? And does President Obama intend to continue acting like the Leader of the Free World?
Yes, I'm still counting the days until Barack Obama's out of office. And the President is actively -- and unforgivably -- hostile to Israel. But, every now and then, Obama does something commendable. He seems, in certain circumstances, willing to use force to defend American interests and to defeat America's enemies.
Back in March, I made the suggestion that President Obama needed to learn a lesson from the last Democratic president. When an international crisis breaks, Bill Clinton said, an American president asks: "Where are my carriers?" There's now some evidence that America's current president finally has absorbed that lesson.
On March 4, I commented that the then-existing deployment of America's supercarriers suggested that the Obama Administration had simply decided to sit out the Arab Spring. There were no American capital ships in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, or the Western Pacific (except for the USS George Washington, sitting in its home port of Yokosuka). Worldwide, only two U.S. carrier strike groups were at sea.
I wrote: "[c]ontrary to doctrine, the U.S. Navy is not, in fact, forward deployed. It is hard to believe this is an accident...This President has no options because, a month into the Arab Spring, he has decided against moving American naval assets so as to give himself options" (emphasis omitted).
Since then, of course, the intervention in Libya has happened; and Osama bin Laden has been killed. The President's now made the important discovery of why a U.S. Navy carrier strike group should always be near a major crisis zone. It would not have been possible on May 2 to execute "Operation Geronimo" without the handy presence, already on station in the North Arabian Sea, of the USS Carl Vinson. As a Navy press release noted, two other CSG's were cruising nearby.
Is President Obama "growing in office"? We shall see. According to gonavy.jp, six American supercarriers are now deployed or at sea on maneuvers.
The OBL take-down led me, for the first time since I was one of three print commentators to call Senator Barack Obama a Marxist before the 2008 election, to write something positive about the President. In a May 4 Blog post -- which, no doubt, triggered acute indigestion on the part of some readers -- I congratulated the President on finally becoming the Leader of the Free World. I wrote:
My point, of course, was this: if the United States is to remain caput mundi, then the American President must be feared. Even if he's a Marxist. Even if our ultimate goal, as conservatives, is to chase him from office in 18 months' time.
Which brings me to the instant question of President Obama's willingness to pull the trigger again and the mounting paranoia of one Moammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi seems to think we're coming to get him. Could he be right?
Quite unreported by the U.S. media, a formidable naval armada is now assembled in the Central Mediterranean. An American carrier strike group should get there this week. Most importantly -- if you believe in a "post-American world" in which America "leads from behind" and American military power should be used only with authorization from a transnational body, all the diplomatic i's have now been dotted and the t's crossed for what French diplomats call "decisive action."
Since NATO's initial intervention in Libya on March 19, President Obama has persistently called on the Gaddafi regime to amscray. Does he mean it? If Obama doesn't mean it -- if he's not willing to back up his words with force, why is he saying it?
As Napoleon said, "if you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna."
At press time, there were signs Gaddafi may actually go. Venezuela has been mentioned. Last week, there seems to have been an overture to Russia to mediate. Now, President Zuma of South Africa is in Libya, trying to broker some kind of deal.
Third, it's not true that things in Libya have settled down to a stalemate. Yes, after an initial barrage of cruise missiles and other actions to "prepare the battle space," the U.S. stepped back from a direct combat role. But France and Britain have stepped up their game.
Tripoli's been pounded. British and French officers, as well as covert forces, are on the ground. NATO's now taken out most of Libya's navy and air force. Misrata's siege has been substantially weakened. Aid is getting through; and casualties are getting out. Gaddafi's forces have lost the initiative. Defections are mounting.
Fourth, the U.S. Navy is about to be in position to re-enter the fray. It was Secretary of Defense Gates who pointed out, three months ago, that doing Libya right "...requires more airplanes than you would find on a single aircraft carrier."
Next, as was done for NATO's initial intervention in Libya, an international consensus has now been put together for regime change. R2P has been replaced by "leave or else." So said all eight G-8 members over the weekend.
Not coincidentally, the International Criminal Court last week issued international arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his sons, and his brother-in-law. The U.S. and NATO now have explicit, internationally-recognized authorization to -- as George W. Bush might say -- "git 'im." And a sheriff's posse is assembling.
With the imminent appearance of a U.S. carrier strike force off the Libyan coast, the "or else" part of "leave or else" is about to arrive.
France's nuclear supercarrier, the Charles de Gaulle, has been on station off Libya participating in combat operations for some time. So has the Italian carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi. Several non-capital NATO ships have been making their presence felt too.
What's been lacking is tank-killing helicopters for close-in ground support. But on May 17, the French helicopter carrier BPC Tonnerre deployed out of Toulon into the Med. Also newly-arrived on station is the HMS Ocean, a British helicopter carrier.
And here, on cue, comes the spanking-new USS George H.W. Bush. CSG Two should be making passage through the Straits of Gibraltar as early as Wednesday. They're scheduled to leave Portsmouth, England, at 10:00 BST on Tuesday morning.
So, Moammar's right: there's a lot of "heat" headed his way.
To repeat: the ICC arrest warrants were the last necessary predicate for U.S. military action in Fareed Zakaria's "post-American world." While conservatives may not like it, this appears to be how "leading from behind" works.
The rest is up to President Obama.
Does he want to go on acting like the Leader of the Free World?
Hamas, Hezb'allah, the Iranians, Bashar al-Assad, and Kim Jong-il -- not to mention the people of Israel -- will all be watching for the answer to that question.