Obama visits Kabul and signs strategic accord

Exactly one year after Osama bin Laden was killed, president Obama made a brief surprise visit to Afghanistan tonight and gave a speech from the Bagram air base in Kabul about the future strategic cooperation between America and Afghanistan.

The accord deals with future cooperation between the United States and Afghanistan after US troops leave that country in 2014. The accord was signed by Obama and Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Here is a New York Times story from Kabul about the visit.

What now in Libya?

Before Obama’s speech on Libya last Monday, the main question was “why?”

President Obama seems have answered that question satisfactorily, judging by this week’s continuing debate on Libyan policy. Overall, Obama received much praise for his speech. “About as shrewd and sensible as any such address could have been,” wrote Fred Kaplan in Slate. Tom Friedman of The New York Times was proud of his president, but also worried: “Dear Lord, please make President Obama is lucky.”

Now, at the end of the week, the main question is another – what now?

On this, there is confusion. Amy Davidson of the New Yorker thought Obama should clearly state what it really is going on in Libya: war! And although Obama on Monday said that “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain called for regime change in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the military leadership, who have continually expressed their skepticism about a military action against Libya, could not be lured into a discussion on regime change at yesterday’s appearances before Congressional committees, other than saying that Gaddafi will probably be removed from power through economic and political pressures or by the Libyan people. Gates did not agree with the idea of the United States supplying
arms to and train the Libyan rebels. And on a matter of U.S. ground forces in Libya, he replied, according to the New York Times, “not as long as I have this job.”

Indeed, the military does not seem pleased about developments in Libya and it finds itself constantly having to raise objections as pressure increases for wider military efforts, wrote Leslie Gelb, former foreign affairs columnist of New York Times and president of Council on Foreign Relations, in today’s Daily Beast.

What we have here is a military intervention to save civilian lives at the same time as we hear President Obama say that Gaddafi must resign without specifying how it will happen. How are these two tasks and objectives reconciled?  The confusion also stems from the fact that the United States is not accustomed to multilateral operations where the U.S. is not playing the lead role – which is currently the case in Libya. No president, prior to Obama, has placed so much faith in the international community. What does this mean for the efforts to reach the end goal, Tom Friedman asked:

”My gut tells me that any kind of decent outcome there will require boots on the ground — either as military help for the rebels to oust Qaddafi as we want, or as post-Qaddafi peacekeepers and referees between tribes and factions to help with any transition to democracy. Those boots cannot be ours. We absolutely cannot afford it — whether in terms of money, manpower, energy or attention. But I am deeply dubious that our allies can or will handle it without us, either. And if the fight there turns ugly, or stalemates, people will be calling for our humanitarian help again. You bomb it, you own it.”

On a broader perspective, wrote Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, we are now beginning to see the outlines of a new Obama Doctrine in foreign policy, and the president
will over the next few weeks talk more explicitly about his hopes for and the future of the Arab world.

Obama’s diplomatic victory on Libya

The UN Security Council vote and the European-led imminent military action against Libya constitute a significant diplomatic victory for President Obama.

Only a week ago, no one really thought that the Western powers, the U.S., France, and Great Britain, would be able to get the Russians and Chinese to agree to anything when it came to Libya, let alone a yes-vote to impose a no-fly zone with its military consequences on that country. And although Russia and China in the end did not vote for military action, by abstaining they did not prevent one.

And by insisting on that a military intervention in Libya should be an international effort, and in this case actually led by the British and the French, Obama scored another diplomatic victory.

Obama, who campaigned for president in opposition to the Iraq and Afghan wars, now finds himself in a third war in the Middle East, albeit a limited one, without the prospect of American ground forces in Libya, as Obama has underlined.  

Does the Western intervention in the Libyan civil war come too late to rescue the rebels from final defeat? It is unclear. For those who argue that the U.S. administration moved too slowly, comparisons to previous cases in Bosnia or Iraq, prove those voices wrong. Obama has moved much quicker than any of his predecessors, in spite of his apparent deep reluctance to engage militarily in another Mideast conflict. The Arab League’s approval of a no-fly zone in Libya proved crucial in paving the way for Obama’s decision, but to a large extent, events on the ground in the Libya forced his hand. No one in the Administration wanted to risk a repeat of the Rwanda tragedy.

Now, the world is waiting for what will come next.

What is America to do in Libya?

Washington and the entire foreign policy/military establishment are wrestling with the question of what America should do in the ongoing revolution in Libya to help the revolutionaries overthrow Colonel Gaddafi and prevent a possible protracted civil war and a humanitarian disaster.

The present debate can be seen as an expression of frustration that there is really not very much that can be done – if America does not want to start a another war in the Middle East, of course.

U.S. warships have been ordered into the Mediterranean Sea and the newspapers and broadcast media are filled daily by reports of refugee flows into Tunisia and Egypt and the evacuation from the ports of Tripoli. Humanitarian assistance is the only thing, so far, that the Obama administration has been able to promise with certainty.  

About all other possible actions and scenarios, the debate is intense. It is here that the introduction of a “no-fly zone” over Libya has become something of the flavor of the day. But no one in the Administration, and least of all Defense Secretary Gates and the military leaders, seems to show any enthusiasm for this idea.

We must be clear about this, said Gates and the generals somberly this week, that measures to close the Libyan airspace begin with acts of war – air strikes against Libya’s air and missile bases. Do we really want another war in the Middle East, they seemed to ask.

So it’s necessary that we count to ten, slowly, before we start another war, writes Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times today about this debate and on the fallout of previous “no-fly zones” — in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo.