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LYONS: Obama’s absence of leadership
U.S. vacillation only encourages Gadhafi atrocity
Question of the Day
The people’s revolt in Libya provides a unique opportunity for President Obama to show leadership and advance a key American interest in helping dictatorships move toward democracy. Unfortunately for the United States, he seems not to understand the opportunity and is failing to advance American interests.
Crises in the Mediterranean littoral are nothing new. The first question always asked by all previous American administrations when there was a crisis was “Where are the carriers?” The availability of this key asset enables the United States to lead the evacuation of our citizens and other nationalities trapped by the crisis. It also can provide a great morale booster to the demonstrators who are trying to topple dictatorships. By a carrier’s mere presence, we have been able to either shape a crisis to a favorable resolution or be in a position to take necessary action to protect U.S. interests. In Libya, we are going to require influence with the government that replaces Moammar Gadhafi to foster the political and economic reforms necessary for preventing the Muslim Brotherhood from forming an Islamist dictatorship, as is well on the way to occurring next door in Egypt.
As the Libyan crisis started to unfold, we had a fortuitous opportunity to influence events with the USS Enterprise, transiting the Mediterranean en route to relieving the USS Carl Vinson in the Gulf of Aden. The Enterprise’s scheduled transit of the Suez Canal last week should have been delayed and the carrier positioned off the coast of Libya. Such a repositioning of the Enterprise would have signaled immediate support for the demonstrators. A flyover by the carrier’s F-18 fighters would have had a dramatic impact. It could have intimidated the Libyan air force from conducting missions against its own people and further encouraged diversion to Malta. The Libyan air force is no match for the carrier’s air-wing capabilities and knows it from previous encounters. A no-fly zone called for by Libya’s U.N. ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, could have been declared and enforced. An airborne early-warning-and-control aircraft also should be positioned to monitor Libyan airspace.
Other U.S. Navy ships that could have been positioned off the coast of Libya and available for multiple taskings included the amphibious assault helicopter carrier USS Kearsarge and the USS Ponce, operating south of the Suez Canal. The 6th Fleet flagship, the USS Mount Whitney, also could be used. These ships are engaged in other missions, such as counterpiracy operations. However, in a strategic sense, the liberation of Libya far outweighs those other missions. It is hoped that the Joint Chiefs of Staff took the initiative and recommended the above or similar course of action.
The Netherlands understood the need to act. it ordered the HNMS Tromp, an air-defense-and-command ship, which was on its way to Somalia for anti-piracy operations, to leave the Red Sea and transit the Suez Canal. It is to take a position off Libya to help evacuate Dutch nationals as necessary. Even the Chinese positioned a naval frigate off the coast of Libya. It is reported that they have 30,000 nationals in country.
Mr. Shalgham pleaded for international intervention and the declaration of a no-fly zone over Libya. The United States had the resources to lead NATO and other allies to provide the critical support to the demonstrators, but we passed. This is not the way a great power acts.
Sanctions, such as restricting travel, revoking visas and freezing assets, will be seen as hollow gestures and will have no impact on Col. Gadhafi, holed up in Tripoli. Furthermore, suspending Libya’s membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council is unlikely to get his attention. Unless sanctions are backed up by on-scene military force, Col. Gadhafi will not be impressed or change his brutal repression and murder of his own people.
The excuse from the Obama administration that it did not want to take any action or call for Col. Gadhafi’s removal over concern for the safety of our diplomats and other Americans in the country is a weak reed. What’s not understood is that military resources must be in place should action be necessary, not only to protect, but to carry out evacuation operations like those in Lebanon in June 1976 and July 2006.
Appeasing despots like Col. Gadhafi has always been taken as a sign of weakness. I am confident that is exactly the way he reads our nonresponses, and it is reflected in the atrocities he continues to inflict on his people.
Col. Gadhafi, his mercenaries and loyalists are going to have be driven out of Tripoli. Hopefully, we have repositioned the USS Carl Vinson or the USS Enterprise off the coast and will have moved other ships and U.S. Air Force B-2 strike bombers in the region to provide options for a successful outcome. Libya’s command-and-control facilities must be destroyed, preferably by cruise-missile strikes. Providing supplies and other military equipment to the demonstrators should be undertaken as a matter of priority. Such material can be flown into airfields that have been liberated from Col. Gadhafi’s control. We cannot continue to stand by idly and watch him murder his own people. Waiting to see what the U.N. or our other allies are willing to do is not the way a great nation leads. The United States must take appropriate action now.
Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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