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MILLER: Obama’s Libyan mistakes

Ex-Defense chief reveals fatal flaws in administration strategy

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2011

Donald Rumsfeld may have left Washington, but his keen eye on world affairs remains instructive. President George W. Bush's defense secretary believes the Obama administration's missteps in Syria and Libya stem from a lack of leadership, absence of a clear mission and faulty coalition building.

A strong White House would have first established the purpose of the Libyan operation, and then signed up nations willing to lend a hand. President Obama did the reverse. "The Obama administration went to the U.N., they went to NATO" Mr. Rumsfeld told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview during the Conservative Political Action Convention cruise in Alaska. "They left it open as to what the mission was, and therefore people had different views. People didn't want to do this; they were unwilling to say that Gadhafi had to go. Therefore they prolonged this. I'm sure there have been a lot more people killed." In practice, Mr. Obama's weak policy of "leading from behind" means America let the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council lead the way.

Iran, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are considerably more important to U.S. national security than Libya, but now that we're involved, our credibility is on the line. Mr. Rumsfeld said the president should have made it clear that Moammar Gadhafi had to go from the start. "The guy's been there for 40 years. He's a vicious dictator," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "The idea that he might still be there when this is over - which is what Obama left everyone to believe, that Gadhafi could still be there, and he is still there - it's going to prevent people from supporting rebels. It's going to prevent people from defecting away from the government."

In his recent memoir "Known and Unknown," the former Illinois congressman writes about being the sole member of the House of Representatives in 1965 to call on Congress to discuss whether President Johnson needed a declaration of war for Vietnam. However, he will not go so far as to say the Libyan excursion has violated the War Powers Resolution. "The president of the United States, under Article II of the Constitution, has the authority to manage our national security, which is something that is enormously difficult for a committee of 535 legislators to do," explained Mr. Rumsfeld. "Bush went to Congress and got a resolution. Obama went to the U.N. and NATO. Strange to not go to the Congress and ask for a resolution. But whether or not he had to, constitutionally, I think is a very open question."

Mr. Rumsfeld believes the administration is making the same mistake with Syrian President Bashar Assad. It took Mr. Obama until mid-August and countless deaths before he said regime change was necessary in Damascus. "Mrs. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton [the secretary of state] was saying that Assad is a reformer. Imagine. He just isn't. He's got the same people his father had around him. It's a tough dictatorship. He's minority Alawite sect. He is going to do as much repression as they need to," the former defense secretary told us. "Assad is not going away unless we say he should."

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

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