Why is Obama giving Libya to the Russians?

By John Bolton
July 19, 2011

By John Bolton
The opinions expressed are his own.

With President Obama’s Libya policy staggering from one embarrassment to another, last week he and Secretary of State Clinton outdid themselves. They publicly welcomed Russia’s effort to insert itself as a mediator, an act of such strategic myopia that it must leave even Moscow’s leadership speechless.

Permanent Security Council members Russia and China abstained on the initial resolution authorizing force to create a Libya no-fly zone and to protect innocent civilians. By not casting a veto, Russia thereby tacitly allowed military action to proceed. As they did, Russia repeatedly second-guessed and harshly criticized NATO’s operations. Now, as a mediator, Russia will, in effect, have the chance to rewrite the Council’s resolution according to its own lights.

Given the uncertain trumpet sounded by both Obama and NATO, and the still-inconclusive outcome of the “kinetic military action,” the reputation and credibility of U.S. and NATO, militarily and politically, have been gravely impaired. The President likely doesn’t appreciate these wounds as he leans over backwards not to be seen as the regime-changing unilateralist he imagined his predecessor to be.

We should hope that Russia fails. Mediation was never the correct answer here. NATO, once committed, must prevail by force of arms, as it still could with a modest demonstration of American leadership. Make no mistake: Welcoming Russian intercession between NATO and a military opponent like Libya is nothing less than a massive humiliation for the Western alliance. If the Obama Administration’s misguided worldview favors mediation, whatever happened to the likes of Sweden and Switzerland?

Not only does Russia now have the possibility of reshaping the Libyan morass to its own ends, it is also well-positioned for a dominant role in post-conflict Libya. From the outset, U.S. critics of the intervention raised legitimate questions about the bona fides of the Libyan opposition, embodied in the Transitional National Council (“TNC”), now recognized by over three dozen countries. Last Friday, the United States joined the crowd, while also unfreezing Libyan assets to make them available to the TNC.

But in the last four months neither America nor its NATO allies have successfully identified and strengthened (quietly or otherwise), a truly significant cadre of pro-Western voices in Libya. This failure increasingly risks that an ultimately victorious opposition will simply replace one rogue regime with another. Ousting Gaddafi is manifestly still vital and legitimate, given his defiant threat to return to international terrorism and possibly the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. But it was always only half a strategy, with a concomitant necessity to select and sustain a desirable — or at least acceptable — alternative.

Inserting Russia into the middle of the Libyan war gives it an unmistakable advantage in shaping the TNC, and post-Gaddafi Libya more broadly. Moscow (along with Beijing) has a keen interest and now a real possibility to become far more involved in exploiting Libya’s oil and natural gas resources than at present. This opportunity is something Russia could never have achieved on its own. To be handed it by Obama and Clinton, utterly gratuitously, is breathtaking.

Russia today is a troublemaker, not ideologically as in the Cold War sense, but as a swaggering, international bully boy. Increasingly reverting to authoritarianism domestically, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is, among other things, seeking to re-establish hegemony within the former Soviet Union; meddling in the Middle East; and flying political cover for Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Ironically, Russia’s international assertiveness cannot be sustained, given its aging, unhealthy and shrinking population and an economy resting on little more than oil and natural gas exports.

Strategically, the United States should be squeezing and disciplining Moscow, not caressing it. Instead, the Obama Administration’s “reset” policy has smacked of appeasement, backing down on missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, abandoning efforts to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO, and signing the New START arms control treaty, an unforced error that will give Russia time and cover to rebuild its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities under limits that constrain Washington far more than Moscow.

The Obama Administration’s weakness, exemplified in its Libya miscalculation, is generating close scrutiny in Russia and in the wider world. Sadly, America’s European friends are also exhibiting a profound fatigue and weakness in Libya and beyond. Some speculated, for example, that France, cozying up to Moscow, welcomed Russia’s mediation in order to foil Germany’s efforts to make itself Russia’s principal Western European partner.

How troubling and dangerous it is to see NATO members drifting toward Russia after largely waging and winning the Cold War in Europe precisely to keep it out of Moscow’s clutches. Now some are not only apparently seeking Moscow’s embrace, but the Obama Administration, in cases like Libya, is actively abetting Russia’s efforts.

The Kremlin will rightly see Obama’s welcoming of its Libya mediation ploy as yet another telling sign of American weakness and retreat. Similarly, America’s other international adversaries will take Obama’s mistake as opening even more opportunities for them that should deeply concern us. These adversaries, like Iran and North Korea, will perceive even less concern about U.S. efforts to constrain their nuclear and ballistic missile programs, thus accelerating the ongoing risk of even broader proliferation.

Political commentators routinely opine that Americans are not interested in national security issues. But if confronted with the dangers of a further sixteen months of Obama, compounded enormously by the prospect of four additional years, Americans should be far more sensible than the prognosticators give them credit for.

Photo: Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Moscow, November 1, 2008. Gaddafi said on Saturday he wanted closer energy ties with Russia, shifting the emphasis away from the arms sales which until now have been at the core of their relationship. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

35 comments

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Giving Libya to the Russians? I thought this was a misprint as anyone with a pair of eyes and ears can see that NATO has done no such thing. It has simply given permission to something that it can not prevent anyhow – two countries talking together (ie. mediation). If Mr. Bolton perceives two countries we don’t like holding talks as somehow a grave threat to US security, then he is even more of a imperialist than I thought. After all, what right does the US claim in no permitted any party to try to discuss ways to achieve peace in Libya – as the UN Secretary General, African Union and Arab League have all demanded take place?

Posted by av2ts | Report as abusive

Who cares what this vile, abusive, arrogant, ignorant man thinks.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Why does a legit news source like Reuters give space to a discredited fraudster like Bolton? This guy has been proven wrong more times than Bernie Madoff. Every single one of his excuses for invading Iraq has been proven false. No WMD. No ties to al Qaeda. No links to 9/11. No paying of his Excellent Adventure in Iraq with Iraqi oil revenues. No flowering of democracy. No containing of Iran. No intimidation of the Muslim world.

But like a particularly malignant cancer, he keeps reoccurring.

Reuters has disgraced itself.

Posted by Gaius_Baltar | Report as abusive

Bolton’s world view is so warped and typically is so convinced that he is right that he cannot see the truth. And diplomacy is not appeasement.

Posted by elderberrynut | Report as abusive

This op-ed piece seems to suggest that the current administration should look at Libya with the same ‘projection of power’ thinking that put us into the true morass of Iraq and Afghanistan. (Please refrain from comparing a 5 month bombing campaign using NATO forces to the 10+ years US troops have toiled in Afghanistan and Iraq. No US casualties have resulted from Libya). Apparently to ‘prevail by force of arms’ is required to scare off the Kremlin baddies (who’s fence sitting isn’t giving the Libyan opposition any warm fuzzies). But for someone who views the world as a chess board, diplomatic nuances appear to be lost. Why does the Obama administration show ‘weakness and retreat’ instead of your preferred solution of ‘waging and winning’ war? Your sanguinary language shows your utter disregard for diplomatic solutions or human life. We certainly can’t afford another trillion dollar fiasco in some far away desert, along with the certain title of ‘invader’ and ‘occupier’. But as long as we show those Ruskies who’s running this world.

And, how, pray tell, if Russia totters on financial insolvency with a single-faceted economy, can they ‘rebuild its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities’? Wouldn’t the simple manipulation of world oil prices (as in the 1980′s) cause another Russian economic meltdown? This is a far cheaper solution than military excursions to every contested square on your chessboard, one that would be funded by borrowing from China (with enough accrued US debt to manipulate our currency…but, hey, we have a military solution for them if they step out of line, too).

Posted by Mike_s1 | Report as abusive

John, just like your previous boss, you have a way to pervert an international concern into the US’s national concern. You offer us insight into why we should be stopping Libya and saving its pro-western civilians, but what about Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia? What about their cries? Why isn’t NATO bombing Riyadh? What about the human rights of people under other brutal Middle Eastern regimes? What about the human rights of people in Darfur, which was on your watch nonetheless? Where was NATO then?

John pays lip service to this impending doom in Libya but is dodgy and scatters like a roach when US-Middle Eastern allies (namely Israel and its human rights atrocities in Gaza) are criticized.

John also arrogantly calls Russia an “international bully boy” and tries to convince us that Russia is still playing that old Cold War game with the US. Really, John? Why was NATO created in the first place? Isn’t keeping an old organization around like NATO, whose original charter was to threaten Russia and its Warsaw Pact should it attack any allied nations, similar to, um, bullying?

Apparently, John, you have failed to see NATO as an operating wing of the US’s Cold War aggression. The assumable reasons why the Obama Administration might not want to put a radar station in the Czech Republic or have the Ukraine and Georgia join NATO, is because it is perceived by the Russians as a return to Cold War tensions and domination by another foreign power. So, really, why ignore this caveat, John?

Posted by milestristero | Report as abusive

US policy is handing significant influence to both China and Russia due to a bullying general policy we have adopted towards the whole world. We have made it clear that countries without nuclear weapons good enough to put on a missile really are not independent States but will be treated as semi-colonies. Our offering up Pakistan to China is considerably more dangerous.

The fact is that our ruling class are bullies, whether toward foreign Governments who do not obey orders or to our own people who don’t obey orders. There will be trouble, and they will blame it (of course) on victims who resist.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

Our President has unilaterally gotten us involved in Libya, and should not allow Russia or China to be calling the shots there. They will likely keep Qadaffi in power and that will lead to even more slaughter, possibly ending the “arab spring”. Obama needs to be voted out in 12.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

What is truly breathtaking is the recklessness of the invasion of Iraq which sacrificed the lives of American soldiers in order to hand the country over to Iran. And now, Bolton is suggesting that we not allow any other country to mediate in Libya, so the US can expand its hegemony? That game is over. Obama did not unilaterally get us involved in Libya but participated in a non US led Nato defense of civilians. Getting Gaddafi out should be the primary goal and not bickering over who should be the most imperialist.

Posted by Greenspan2 | Report as abusive

The US should listen to John Bolton. He has the expertise to get things wrong.

Posted by Bart77 | Report as abusive

But fellas, we’ve hit the RESET button with Russia. All is well. Their motives are now pure, and so are ours, because Prince 0bama has fundamentally changed the way the whole world works. Peace. Love. Trust. Bullsh-t.

Reality check – I’m NO fan of Johnny-the-Armchair-General Bolton, but on this one he’s right on target.

Russia is going to work this for every advantage, and to the extreme detriment of the U.S. and NATO. 0bama is no power-mad empire builder like Bush-Bolton-Cheney. But he is an arrogant and bumbling idiot on foreign policy and more.

Posted by NukerDoggie | Report as abusive

Oh, like your prescriptions have resulted in even occasionally salubrious outcomes, Mr. Bolton. NOT. You and your neocon buddies imagined a world where American writ ran unquestioned because we were the sole remaining super power. Unfortunately, as I’ve said many times before, we are the most powerful nation on earth but we are not more powerful than the rest of the world. Not only does that mean that if a major group of nations teamed up, they could defeat us, it also means that we can only attack a finite number of other countries at once. The fact that we are still engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and now Libya strongly implies that your world view is still running rampant in Washington.

Since government policies over the last 30-40 years have succeeded in eviscerating America’s industrial base, even if you could pull off a “victory”, it would be purely Pyrrhic. Indeed, it already is – the price of funding your visions of grandeur is a crumbling infrastructure here in the US, income inequality worthy of the finest banana republics, crushing debt loads, and the loss of much of our power of legitimacy by virtue of behaviors worthy of the most notorious authoritarian regimes. And that’s before we consider the consequences of the financial meltdown which resulted from those same policies that cost us our industrial base.

So, Mr. Bolton, you and your ilk should get thee hence. In fact, why don’t you get thee hence to Russia and China. If you can screw them up as much as you’ve screwed us up, it would help balance the scales.

Posted by majkmushrm | Report as abusive

another russophobic article from the west. the only thing Western media produced since the 19th century

Posted by s20061265 | Report as abusive

Mr. Bolton, there’s a reason you were American Ambassador to the UN FOR ONLY ONE YEAR. You’re a bumbling, myopic, arrogant fool. America isn’t the global power it once was. Like other nations through history, we had our century of power and glory. Now it’s time to start working on solutions in foreign policy that don’t include fear-mongering the American populace and putting our troops on foreign shores.

And, from the tone of your rhetoric in this article, I imagine your are now on the payroll of the GOP as well.

Posted by The_Traveler | Report as abusive

Holy smokes – the LBJ administration called, they want this guy back!

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

Hey, fair is fair, after they were nice enough to let the USA have Afghanistan.

Posted by revdrdark | Report as abusive

Smart move by the US Administration. Pass on the Libya issues and responsibility to Putin. They did that to us with Afganistan – and are we better of because of it? No.

Same thing here – heat is of the US, funding for this current and future mess will come out of Moscow and we have more capacity to focus on our domestics woes. Libya has nothing to offer us.

We are not the world humanitarians – even if we were – past history has tainted perceptions and we are not to be trusted or wanted most anywhere in the world.

Even our number one ally Israel – only wants out money and does not want to hear boo out of us.

Strange how two similar cultures – Canada and the USA are not as close as Israel and the USA. No wars involved here – no profits.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

Bolton is old school. Drop bombs, send troops and take the resources. Not once have men of his ilk considered natural gas and oil to be obsolete as well as dangerous to the environment. He is nothing more than a mouth piece for the for the U.S. Oligarchy.

Without enemies there is no justification for the military industrial complex that keeps politicians in office with legal bribes. As long as men like him are given positions of power and influence in government, our nation will never change. His views should be not be given legitimacy.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

The West fabricated this uprising at the instigation of Cameron, who had the leader of the Libyan opposition under his thumb in London. How can the Russians succeed when NATO promised the rebels the power and the glory and an easy win to boot? But I hope they will, and I also hope Ghadafi gives them a piece of the oil action. They certainly deserve it more than BP.

Go home, Bolton, and don’t forget to bury your stupid imperialism in your back yard.

Posted by Biscayne | Report as abusive

Well, I was going to first describe how Bolton was one of the architects of an embarrassingly bad W. Bush “foreign policy”, if you could even call it that. However, it looks like others have already stated that case quite clearly.

But, in a more current tone, Bolton is speaking from the stand of being a staunch right winger. Recently, the US Congress tried to condemn Obama for taking an “illegal” military action against Libya. So, what is then, right wingers. Should we throw our military weight around and try to influence middle eastern politics, as we were so quick to do during the W. era? Or, do we follow the advice of the extremist Tea Partiers, and take a largely isolationist approach, which by default, puts the ball in Russia’s court?

The very discussion by members of the right is innately schizophrenic, much like the deficit debate, which only erupted the month after Obama took office.

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive

John Bolton is the classic example of the salesman who puts his foot in the door. Look at his own words, once NATO got the right to create a no fly zone to protect people, he quickly turned that into a war that must be won by NATO through force of arms.

Bolton wrote:

“Permanent Security Council members Russia and China abstained on the initial resolution authorizing force to create a Libya no-fly zone and to protect innocent civilians.”

Bolton converted this to:

“We should hope that Russia fails. Mediation was never the correct answer here. NATO, once committed, must prevail by force of arms….”

Prior to Russian and Chinese air-strikes, Russia and China were first in the queue for favorable oil contracts with Libya, next came Europe. Supplying Al”cia”da rebels in Libya illegally with weapons, the CIA, MI6 and other NATO aligned countries infiltrated Libyan opposition (still a minority) and threatened a coup d’etat.

China and Russia played it cool and knew Gaddafi was capable of counterinsurgency tactics to hold out against the coming onslaught. Once the NATO airstrikes began, including over 140 tomohawk US missile strikes and 3200 drone sorties by the US, it became clear the US was not in this for humanitarian reason, as the innocent body count by NATO forces surpassed what Obama alleged he was trying to prevent by Gaddafi.

Russia then obtained and circulated irrefutable radar evidence the initial “civilian bombings” by Libya were a lie, and Gadaffi did not engage in this action.

Obama was either late in discovering the truth from his own armed services, or he knew about the lie and decided to go forward against the Libyan regime anyway as a means to turn around the British and European oil prices and economy.

Regardless, after Russia and China made clear they believed the whole thing was a hoax, perpetrated by NATO alliance leaders, presented the evidence to the world, secured Gaddafi’s safety (see Gaddafi “in Bunker with Russian chess player), and offered a mediation way out, Obama jumped at the chance (we hope) to make things right.

Thank Kucinich, Mckinney and other fearless and tireless peace proponents for placing their own lives at risk to bring the truth to Obama and the American people.

Bolton is left showing his real persona. It does not take much to read between the lines and determine Bolton sees no fly zones as a way to start a war, Bolton sees resource control justifying military power over economic competition, Bolton hates that Russia and China are “mediating” a possible peace in Libya, and he detests that Russia and China will continue to benefit from better oil contracts in the sweet crude world of Libya.

Meanwhile, if this peace is not negotiated, and Obama goes back to a war platform, we will sink lower in the eyes of humanity, Obama will nail his status as a war criminal, and Bolton will be whistling dixie. Let’s hope mediation, and not Bolton’s war-mongering solutions rise to reflect our better nature as a society committed to peace.

NATO bombing grows reckless and desperate, is inflicting major collateral damage upon women and children, and now is even bombing suburban civilian targets throughout Tripoli. Pray to God your tax dollars inflict no more death, and mediation wins out over war.

Posted by flipper4 | Report as abusive

While the passion in this op-ed cannot be missed, the message is somewhat hypocritical. The United States has been guilty of the same unilateral, imposing policies on the Middle East as the author accuses Russia of doing. What is the difference who does it or why? The United States and Europe are fighting bigger battles than Libya’s 2 percent of oil production and their leader’s megalomania. As a lay person, I have no idea what the political ramifications would be if Russia did lead the NATO mediation. All politics aside, can it be any worse than what we would do?

Posted by alwayslearning | Report as abusive

As always, Mr Bolton is correct. But next time, publish it in the WSJ

Posted by mheld45 | Report as abusive

This is EXACTLY the reason why he was the worst choice for U.N. Ambassador. He calls Obama myopic, yet hasn’t seemed to notice the Cold War ended over two decades ago! I also like how most of this article is pure conjecture on what Russia “might” do; much more fearmongering than fact. But then again, he was the head cheerleader for invading Iraq to find WMD’s that he was “confident” were there.

Posted by RexMax46 | Report as abusive

mheld45 wrote:
“As always, Mr Bolton is correct.”

You couldn’t be more wrong. Bolton should be downright ashamed of this interview about Iraq having WMD’s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressre leases/stories/2002/11_november/20/ws_jo hnbolton.shtml

Posted by RexMax46 | Report as abusive

Those of us who have done international work have some difficulty with Mr. Bolton’s credibility. He has a history of radical comments, often political and ideologically based. Examples go from backing Dick Cheney’s myth of weapons of mass destruction, to create a reason for the Iraqi war, to incident after incident, his statements proven with time to be wrong.

Many credible people simply take his public statement and assume that the opposite must be true, if Bolton says it. A consideration we must weigh, is why Reuters gives Bolton ink? Reuters has a good reputable reputation and we must wonder, does Bolton have deep pockets money supporters who influence the press to give him exposure? We wish Mr. Bolton well, but his departure from public notice would be no loss to the USA.

Posted by benboothe.com | Report as abusive

I used to think John Bolton was a moral, well-intentioned person.

France got what they wanted – they looted the Libyan treasury, and they’re ready to quit the “no fly zone” now. Italy says they’re done with this war. Germany wanted nothing to do with it from the start. Turkey is drooling at the prospects of running a post-war Libya and restarting the Ottomon empire. The Rebels (or is it the government?) took mass casualties today trying to take Brega from the Qadaffi forces.

Qadaffi continues to say as he did from day one that he’s willing to negotiate an internationally supervised national election process to establish a democratic government and a transition of power if he and/or his son loses the election – it’s the “Rebels” who refuse to talk and seem to want only to reestablish the British created “Monarchy” with no basis in democracy and stuff the Libya Treasury and Sovereign’s fund into their Swiss bank accounts.

Qadaffi has been Russia’s guy up until about 7 years ago – just when he was showing signs of warming up to NATO, NATO sucker punches him and misses.

Posted by findanisp2002 | Report as abusive

Yes, Mr. Bolton, thanks for putting US into a mess with Iraq War, which is currently a part of the current US budget deficit. After 2 weeks, perhaps US may default and the economy will again fall into recession. Try to improve your own country instead of whining about bygone Cold war stuffs.

Posted by Tomal | Report as abusive

Bolton- where’s the other half of your Keystone Cops perpetual debacle- Dick Cheney? Neither one of you are competent enough to run a car wash much less offer up your constant (yet never solicited) ill-conceived at best, to just plain wrong perceptions on foreign policy.

Next up- Charles Manson pens article on making lasting relationships.

Posted by mynamehear2 | Report as abusive

And why is that any of our business?

Posted by GrandInquisitor | Report as abusive

I assume this article will appear next in “boltons corner” AKA the wall street journal editorial page.

Posted by GrandInquisitor | Report as abusive

A couple of days ago, the NYT had an article about the fact that 14 million Americans are being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs.
Mentions of role of incentives by big pharmas to doctors and shrinks.
But maybe the epidemic of psychosis is from GWB time, and Bolton on Fox, and more News, and more …

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

“NATO, once committed, must prevail by force of arms”

Spoken like a true war-monger. Do you really take yourself seriously when you like so many other pundits throw away diplomacy? I implore you to go get a weapon and fly to Libya to fight should your article be taken seriously by the U.S Government. It’s much easier for you to sit there and say “INVADE INVADE INVADE” when you are safe behind a computer.

Do you seriously believe that the almighty United States is the only nation on earth that can solve a dispute like so many Americans do?

Let Russia talk to them at least they don’t need oil like the U.S does.

For people like you the Cold war is not over, you seek conflict because you see no other way to solve a dispute.

Regarding NATO, it is a relic from a time when there was a use for it, it remains as a political tool when its purpose was to counter a now defunct Warsaw Pact.

Scrap the outdated alliance in favor of a modern defense collective.

Posted by zerocool81 | Report as abusive

Obama knows exactly what he is doing by allowing the Russians to intervene. He is giving the initiative to Putin, who, as Mr.Bolton states in his article,will be able to shape Lybia’s future and the middle east’s future, to the benefit of Russia.

Obama intends to destroy the US economy,it’s power and influence in the world and it’s realtionship with western powers. He is preparing the road for Putin, the antichrist, to dominate Europe and the middle east by force with China’s help in the very near future.

Posted by BobbyPC | Report as abusive

mheld45 are you aware of the News Corporation scandal? The chief of the Wall Street Journal(a Murdoch holding) and president of the Dow just resigned. The FBI(incompetent) and the Justice Department(corrupt) are investigating News Corp.’s activities in the States. Corporate America and government is a Swiss Cheese of conflict of interests and loop holes. Swiss cheese smells and tastes a whole lot better.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive