- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2011

Whatever the motives by all parties behind the Libya intervention, the worst fears expressed in the U.N. resolution “authorizing” the use of force are coming true.

At this writing, a half-million civilians in Libya’s third-largest port city of Misrata are feeling the blast of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s only half-crippled firepower. Pitifully, they include tens of thousands of black African illegal migrants trying to get to Europe — hostages in Col. Gadhafi’s blackmail games with the Europeans. The deaths of two Western journalists last week dramatized what could well turn into the kind of humanitarian catastrophe the U.N. warns about but repeatedly fails to prevent. (A harbinger of the coming disaster, ignored by the media, was the loss of 200 souls on a refugee ship in early April.)

Misrata is emblematic as the rebels’ outpost in the west close to the Libyan capital, 500 miles from their Benghazi stronghold in the eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica, proof that Col. Gadhafi rules largely by terror.

But the Obama administration has failed to hand off to NATO the dictator’s ouster, for which Washington itself along with the Europeans and most Arab states has repeatedly called. Halfhearted attempts to arm the rebels — first with “nonlethal” equipment and later with armed drones — are too little and too late to end what Washington admits is a stalemate.

At the U.N. Security Council, opposition from China and Russia (with support from a hypocritical India) blocks expanding sanctions, sanctions that could target tens of billions of dollars that Col. Gadhafi’s family still dispenses. Those funds help bribe African states — long on the Libyan leader’s dole — who call for a negotiated settlement that would preserve the regime. The stalemate also whets Russia and China’s appetites to reinitiate their lucrative weapons sales to Tripoli.

This fiasco is only the most flagrant in a growing list of Obama foreign policy disasters. Even granting that most crises are long in the making, Mr. Obama’s indecisiveness and his adamant refusal to fulfill the U.S. role as leader of the Western alliance aggravate every Mideast problem.

Washington’s obstinate pursuit of accommodation with Syria, perhaps the Arab world’s bloodiest regime, has come a cropper as opponents test whether dictator Basher Assad will escalate the killings, currently numbering in the dozens, against peaceful demonstrators to the tens of thousands during his father’s reign or will cede control to proliferating Muslim radicals.

The Obama administration’s insistence on pressing the issue of Israeli settler outposts in the West Bank, putting the Jewish state’s security at risk, has brought about a near Washington-Jerusalem breakdown, endangering the only stable U.S. alliance in the region and further negating the prospect of an Israeli-Arab compromise.

In Egypt, Washington’s indecision in fostering a post-Mubarak transition opened the floodgates to the Muslim Brotherhood (whom only Mr. Obama’s Arab experts characterize as “moderate”), weakening Cairo’s military leadership and jeopardizing Egypt’s opposition to Iranian regional expansion.

The administration’s tepid, belated support for Tehran’s dissidents has not only emboldened Iran’s mullahs to strengthen their terrorist tentacles in the Mediterranean and into Afghanistan, but has encouraged the Germans, Indians and, of course, the Chinese, to continue flouting economic sanctions designed to pressure the regime.

The president’s pretentious “outreach” rhetoric only strengthened the Arab/Muslim “victimization” complex, while his symbolic bows to the Saudi monarchy have soured following what Riyadh sees as American sabotage of its interests in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen. The result: Saudi noncooperation on boosting OPEC quotas and a resulting rise in world petroleum prices.

Everywhere U.S. prestige is taking a shellacking, not only from longtime opponents, but from European allies who, in the midst of their own crisis involving the euro, suddenly have been set adrift without their traditional recourse to American leadership and firepower.

The approaching electoral season’s probable concentration on domestic concerns is likely to give the Obama administration some respite from foreign policy critics. Grounding his campaign headquarters in Chicago — to mask Mr. Obama’s dependence on a political base among the chattering classes on both coasts — may help obscure international issues. Indeed, American foreign policy since the U.S. emergence as a major player on the world stage on the eve of World War I has too often been characterized by a violent fluctuation between withdrawal and forced engagement.

But in the 21st century, the digital revolution has sounded the death knell for many older foreign policy choices, in an age of instantaneous communication, globalized economics and Space Age weapons of mass destruction. In the end, what may well be building is a new and unforeseen crisis — at the level of Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Turning away may not be an option the American public will have this time.

Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at [email protected]

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