Gaddafi Is Dead, And Where Is American Foreign Policy?

22 Oct

The body of ousted Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi lies on a mattress in the cold storage room of a vegetable market near a mosque in the outskirts of Misrata on October 21, 2011. Libya's leaders faced huge pressure to proclaim the country's liberation and move toward democracy, amid euphoria over the killing of Kadhafi under still murky circumstances. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty It’s not a good start for a post-Gaddafi Libya. Not only are the details of the dictator’s death disputed, but the National Transitional Council (NTC)’s official line is at odds with eyewitnesses.

Most commanders and fighters who were at the scene with whom The Associated Press has spoken say that when he was captured, Gadhafi had already suffered the wounds that would lead to his death. That would mean that in the video, Gadhafi would have a bullet imbedded in his head, another in his chest and a third near his belly button. Yet, he is seen upright, talking and has the strength to struggle back, and there is no blood on his chest or belly. At one point, his shirt is pulled up to his chest, but no belly wound is visible.

Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril gave a different account Thursday, saying the fatal wounds were suffered later, when Gadhafi had been taken to the ambulance. As it set off for Misrata, the vehicle was caught in crossfire between revolutionaries and Gadhafi loyalists.

Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam mirrored this version Friday, saying the wounds came later, after his capture. “It seems like the bullet was a stray and it could have come from the revolutionaries or the loyalists,” Shammam said. “The problem is everyone around the event is giving his own story.”

But other fighters, commanders and witnesses have not spoken of any such crossfire or further clashes. Siraq al-Hamali, a 21- year-old fighter, told AP that he rode in the vehicle carrying Gadhafi as it left Sirte and did not mention coming under fire. He said by the time they reached a field hospital 20 miles (30 kilometers) outside Sirte, Gadhafi had died of wounds he already had.

Who cares, right? Gaddafi is dead. OK, but let’s make a note of this for when the NTC and other rebel factions have other disputes. Even the U.S. isn’t immune to political disputes over Gaddafi’s demise. For the record, I don’t view the demise of Gaddafi as an argument for the validity of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) as a guide to military intervention. I also remind readers, that even by the standards of R2P, the U.N., the U.S. and European states have more to do than just cheer on the NTC. I also do not view Gaddafi’s demise as a vindication of American foreign policy, or of the records of the George W. Bush or Barack H. Obama administrations. As a matter of fact, I’m deeply troubled.

Fortunately for you and me, Daniel W. Drezner and Stephen M. Walt already are thinking abut the implications of Gaddafi’s demise, so we don’t have to. Short answer: it’s more than just a choice between national interests, of the U/S., or of any state, and local aspirations for democracy and human rights – although that would be enough of a conundrum.

First, both Drezner and Walt point out the nagging inconsistencies in recent American foreign policy decisions.

…helping overthrow Qaddafi may have signaled U.S. support for the “Arab spring,” but our response to upheavals in Bahrain and elsewhere shows that our policy is far from consistent. On the plus side, we did not allow at least one dictator to crush the opposition, and we can therefore claim to have taken action consistent with our values. But we are also guilty of obvious hypocrisy-both because we had previously embraced the supposedly reformed Qaddafi and because we have turned a blind eye when authoritarians on which we are more dependent cracked down on their populations. We can be sure that critics will remind us about our double-standards — repeatedly. And any kudos we may have won in the Arab world are more than counteracted by our shameful policy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Additionally, as Scher and Lewis also argued, both the U.S. Democratic and Republican establishments are both internally divided over foreign policy yet there are adherents to any given philosophical flavor in both parties. But, would any candidate or platform acknowledge this?

…through a combination of obstinance and incoherence, the GOP field’s criticisms are looking pretty foolish. Simply denying any credit to the Obama administration’s foreign policy has become sillier over time. In some cases a singular candidate’s criticism remains logically consistent, but contradicts what other candidates say. So, you have candidates like Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman want to see the U.S. retrench (in the case of Paul, quite radically), while Mitt Romney wants a 600-ship navy while Michelle Bachmann wants to see the restoration of autocracy in Egypt while Herman Cain just wanders from foreign policy misstatement to foreign policy misstatement. Instead of actual criticisms, the field has resorted to horseshit myths like the famed-but-nonexistent Obama “Apology Tour.”

Taken as a whole, I agree with more of Walt’s concerns than Drezner’s. Still, these two points, which both Drezner and Walt offer, are deadly, perhaps even causally related. I will end with Walt’s sobering, if professorial plug for Thucydides, if for no other reason than it cannot be said enough.

Lastly, although the decision to intervene was suffused with liberal rhetoric and Qaddafi’s death has been accompanied by a sober accounting of his many sins, the whole business confirms Thucydides’ famous maxim (much loved by realists) that the “strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” Despite his silly pretensions, Muammar al-Qaddafi was in the end the not-very-effective ruler of a not-very-powerful state. Although he managed to hold power for four decades, he accomplished hardly any memorable goals, and managed to alienate most of the leaders with whom he dealt. And he fell from power because he failed to realize that he wasn’t omnipotent or especially popular, and that his military forces were too fragile to go up against modern military forces (even if the latter were barely breathing hard). In the end, the strong did what they could, and the weak suffered the consequences. Let us hope that his successors govern more wisely, and more realistically too.

And, that goes for this president and the next one, as well.


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