Schmidt: Lessons from Libya
Now that bin Laden and Gadhafi are dead, the GOP should not attack
Obama on foreign policy.
9:59 PM, Oct. 21, 2011
STEFFEN SCHMIDT IS A PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY.
What does the death of Moammar Gadhafi mean for U.S. foreign policy and for the
Middle East and North Africa?
The Obama administration deserves credit for taking the lead on action against the
Libyan dictator. Team Obama did an excellent job in managing this victory from behind
the scenes, letting the Europeans and a few Arab states have the public face of the
We know that, in fact, the U.S. was the crucial, essential nation in this conflict. The U.S.
gave heart to NATO, which rarely steps into conflicts such as this without a shove from
the United States.
All of the significant intelligence was provided by the United States because NATO
and the Europeans have no capability for satellite and aerial intelligence. We know
almost for certain that American intelligence teams were on the ground in Libya helping
organize the decidedly chaotic rebel forces.
The U.S. supplied the Europeans with smart munitions when they ran out.
The United States led in the freezing of Libyan assets and then in the “timed release” of
Libyan money to the insurgent forces so they could function as a partial regional
Libya might be a new model in which no U.S. or NATO ground troops are committed
and air power in support of national “freedom fighters” accomplishes the goal.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who it now turns out lied about his family’s “escape from
Cuba” (newly released documents show that they left two years before Castro invaded
Cuba from Mexico) criticized the Obama administration on the day Gadhafi was
captured and killed. I think the Republicans are playing with fire when they attack the
commander in chief of the United States in a time of war. Isn’t that treason?
As to the other tyrants in the Middle East, the lessons are potentially two and very
On the one hand, the leaders of Syria and some of the remaining oppressive regimes
may decide that they cannot let popular uprisings succeed or they too will be captured
and killed like Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi. That means they will increase the
repression and hold on to power at all cost.
On the other hand, they might decide that they need an “exit strategy” from their country
and transition power to other forces in a relatively orderly way.
Which of these will motivate Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad or Yemen’s longtime
president Ali Abdullah Saleh we don’t know. However, President Obama has already
said that they should go. Given the success in Libya, if I were either of these leaders I’d
start looking at my options very carefully and make sure my bags are packed.
As for the Republicans, my advice is to stay as far away as they can from any foreign
policy attacks on Obama. If they don’t, the president will rerun video of the capture and
death of Osama bin Laden and Gadhafi and surround himself with U.S. military when he
The era of shouting that Obama is soft on terrorism and weak on military is over, and
any effort to dig up that line of attack from the grave is just going to backfire on the
GOP. After all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has Obama’s back.
Whether all of this will bring peace and democracy to North Africa and the Middle East
we don’t know. I hope that the options are not limited to “Brutal Dictator” or “Chaotic and
Radicalized State.” There has to be a third way.
For now, we know that few are mourning the death of one of the world’s biggest
sponsors of terrorism, who killed Americans in cold blood, supported every terrorist
group imaginable in Africa, bringing death and misery to those troubled countries, and
mocked the Western democracies for four decades.
There has to be some good in that.