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.