In Libya, President Obama is trying to accomplish President George W. Bush's strategic objective while avoiding becoming embroiled in another Iraq.
That objective is to reassert America's post-Soviet global supremacy.
In his March 28 speech, Obama acknowledged that Iraq proved too costly an occupation. "To be blunt," he said, "we went down that road in Iraq. ... That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."
Yet Obama is all about regime change in Libya. That's why he reiterated his position that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi must go. And he reenacted Bush's "shock and awe" -- an assault involving numerous cruise missiles.
The lull that followed in "coalition" air strikes on Gadhafi forces, which allowed battered Libyan government units to retake ground briefly held by the highly disorganized and foreign-dependent rebels, could serve as a means for Washington to squeeze the bravado out of the insurgents -- a kind of discipline by denial. Despite the West's boundless praise for these purportedly democratic "freedom fighters," it's unlikely that Washington wants them to exercise authority over the entire country.
The president's carefully crafted language indicates that Obama hopes to "stabilize" Libya under indirect U.S. dominion through a kind of protectorate involving various international entities, on the Haitian model. The key paragraph from his speech stated: "Gadhafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. Moreover, even after Gadhafi does leave power, 40 years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task. And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community, and -- more importantly -- a task for the Libyan people themselves."
This is not a green light for the anti-Gadhafi crowd, whose Islamist elements are anathema to U.S. policymakers. It is a rationale for a long, Haiti-like occupation under a compliant United Nations or an improvised multinational coalition.
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