TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: Why Obama shouldn’t get praise for Libya just yet

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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With Moammar Gadhafi’s bloody death Thursday, has Barack Obama’s Libya policy been vindicated?

That’s what liberal commentators want us to believe. And they may be right. In just over half a year, at little financial cost and with the loss of no American lives, one of the world’s cruelest dictators has been eliminated. A clear win, right?

Perhaps. History, however, has not yet been written.

I opposed the president’s intervention in Libya, but am open-minded enough to concede that I may turn out to be wrong. Actually, I hope with every fiber of my being that I end up being wrong.

And the president has a pretty strong case so far. He will be able to say that his decision to act may very well have averted a massacre. When the president ordered action, Gadhafi’s forces were on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and Gadhafi was pledging that they would show no mercy to the population.

We will never know if a massacre would have occurred or how significant it would have been — whether tens, hundreds or thousands of people would have been slaughtered. But sitting in the White House, with almost sole discretion over whether any such massacre would be permitted to take place, one can only imagine the mental wrestling the president went through.

Seven months later, thanks to the president’s decision, Gadhafi is dead. No massacre occurred. Only about one billion dollars was spent. No Americans lives were lost. If these were the only considerations, I would be the first to praise the president.

But there is plenty of reason to reserve judgment. The question is what will Libya become?

At the time of America’s action against Libya, Gadhafi may have been a brutal dictator, but he was no longer a threat to the United States. A monumentally wicked leader he surely was, but he had years ago given up his weapons of mass destruction programs and sought rapprochement with the West. What’s more, he was an enemy of the very Islamists that threaten America.

Among all the arrows being slung at President Obama’s Libya policy, the most serious is this: Do we know what comes next?

Indeed, we really don’t. We especially didn’t know at the time of the intervention. And therein lies the determination of Obama’s Libya legacy.

If an Islamist government ultimately takes over Libya and turns it into an Islamist state, especially one friendly to terrorist elements that America is at war with, the president will have helped midwife a regime that is far more threatening to the United States than Gadhafi’s and likely every bit as cruel. History, then, will certainly not look kindly upon Obama’s war.

This isn’t some totally unimaginable scenario, either. Libya’s transitional government announced this week that it was re-establishing polygamy in the country and that Sharia would be the “basic source” of law in the country. We’ll see to what extent Sharia law is actually implemented and how far it all goes, but there is reason for serious caution.

If, however, a reasonably liberal regime arises — or at least one that is as externally friendly to the U.S. as Gadhafi’s was at the end — then the president will earn the praise he deserves.

This is not to say there aren’t other serious considerations. Is the principle the president set wise, even if it turns out well in this particular theater? What were the opportunity costs, if any, with going to war in Libya? For instance, by engaging military with a third Muslim country, would the president be less likely to act militarily to forestall Iranian nuclear proliferation if it came to that?

These are all important questions that need to be answered in history’s final analysis of the president’s policy. But what type of regime will replace Gadhafi seems to be the most foreseeable obstacle to the Libyan operation being considered a success at this point.

Let’s be abundantly  clear –- Gadhafi was an evil dictator whose death should not be mourned by anyone who believes in decency. Let’s hope that what replaces him is better, both in relation to the Libyan people and to the United States.

If that turns out to be the case, I will be the first to praise the outcome of the president’s war. But we aren’t there yet. History is still being written.

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