What we learned from the Security Council debate over Libya
We have often seen in our contemporary history that the weakness of democracies leaves the field open to dictatorships."
-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Mar. 16, 2011
Yesterday the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military intervention to protect the Libyan people from the depredations of Colonel Gaddafi's rule. What have we learned from the debate over the resolution and its outcome?
(1) The international system doesn't work in the absence of U.S. leadership. It was only the near 180-degree shift in the Obama administration's position on a no-fly and no-drive zone in Libya -- in the face of what was shaping up to be a massacre by Libyan government forces in Benghazi and strong pressure for urgent intervention from Britain, France, and the Arab League -- that made the UNSC vote possible. For weeks, President Obama has judged the risks of action in Libya to be greater than the risks of inaction -- with the effect that the United States ended up sitting on the sidelines. But the White House belatedly realized that American inaction was the greater risk to the national interest.
In the meantime, by choosing to stand aside during the early, critical stage of the Libyan uprising, the U.S. implicitly endorsed the status quo and allowed Gaddafi to regain the initiative. Washington also unwittingly signaled to other contested regimes in Bahrain and Yemen that they had a choice to avoid the "Mubarak option" of ceding to the will of the people -- by shooting them -- without risking their U.S. ties. Lesson: America still has the unique power to manage unfolding international crises, which are essentially unmanageable when Washington sits on the sidelines -- and a U.S. decision not to intervene is as much a strategic choice as the decision to do so.
For full article, please see Foreign Policy.