Americans looking for strong, assertive leadership have had to look abroad for an adequate response to Muammar Qaddafi’s brutal crackdown in Libya. That’s because the Obama administration’s response to the conflict has been weak and confused.
Today, for instance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking about Libya in Geneva, said that “nothing is off the table.” But back in Washington, briefing reporters after President Obama met with U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice said that “It’s quite premature,” when asked about the prospect of a no-fly zone or other military action.
The Obama administration’s unwillingness to press for a no-fly zone, to use the threat of military force as a deterrent, or even to lead evacuation efforts, has been disappointing. Indeed, no one seems really sure where the United States stands on anything Libya related. Luckily, our European allies have picked up some slack.
In a rather Churchillian statement to the House of Commons today, British prime minister David Cameron updated Parliament on British evacuation efforts and said that he was instructing the British military to work with allies on plans for a “military no-fly zone.” Over the weekend, British forces endured small arms fire to rescue hundreds of U.K. citizens and foreign nationals from remote locations in Libya. Cameron described Britain’s “leading role in coordinating the international evacuation effort” from a temporary headquarters in Malta commanded by a senior military officer. He went on to put events in Libya into a broader context, declaring this “a precious moment of opportunity” that occurs “once in a generation.”
He ended by saying:
“In short, reform, not repression, is the way to lasting stability. No one pretends that democracy and open societies can be built overnight.
Democracy is the work of patient craftsmanship – and it takes time, as we know from our own history, to put its building blocks in place.
What is happening in the wider Middle East is one of those once in a generation opportunities, a moment when history turns a page. That next page is not yet written. It falls to all of us to seize this chance to fashion a better future for this region, to build a better relationship between our peoples, to make a new start.
As the inspiring Opposition leaders I met in Tahrir Square said to me last week: We now have the opportunity of achieving freedoms that you in Britain take for granted. I am determined that Britain will not let them down.”
As Qaddafi’s forces attempt to surround opposition strongholds and reports of additional atrocities and more bombings by Libyan planes continue, let’s hope that the Obama administration will be shamed by the initiative of our allies and finally begin to lead, both in Libya as well as in the broader effort to assist those in the Middle East who seek freedom.