Opinion

The Great Debate

Assessing the resiliency of Hillary Clinton

As Hillary Rodham Clinton finished her last few weeks on the job, after a month of convalescence, how can we assess the secretary of state’s contributions?

The question is worth asking simply because of the job’s importance and its significance for U.S. national security. It is also relevant given Clinton’s unprecedented role in our national life over the last two decades.

She is probably the most politically powerful woman in U.S. history — at least in terms of positions held. She has come closer to being elected president than any other woman. She may well try again, and her record as secretary may be the best way to judge her candidacy for the highest job in the land. So how has she done?

My bottom line is this: Clinton has been a very good secretary – if more solid than spectacular. Pick your cliché or sports metaphor – she is more work horse than show horse, more an indefatigable marathoner (despite the setback last month) than a sprinter.

For someone who almost won the presidency before becoming a subordinate to her rival in his Cabinet, and who was already among the world’s most famous women before taking the job, this is a remarkable testament to her work ethic, her humility and her selflessness. It does not necessarily place her in the top tier of U.S. secretaries of state of all time – but even if not, she is certainly in the very next level.

Obama, Romney missing the point on Libya

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in Monday’s foreign policy debate are again likely to examine the administration’s handling of an Islamic militia’s murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its significance for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, they may again miss the crucial question raised by the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans: Why is Libya at the mercy of hundreds of lawless militias and without a functioning state one year after U.S. and NATO support enabled rebels to overthrow dictator Muammar Ghadaffi?

What both presidential nominees fail to see is that the United States and its allies went beyond their (and the U.N.’s) declared objective of protecting civilian areas under threat of attack to promoting rapid and violent regime change. This left the country in the hands of a fledgling rebel political leadership, which has tenuous control over the country’s militia groups.

The key to understanding the ‘Arab Spring’

The United States has been unable to develop a clear national policy about the Arab Spring largely because Washington does not fully understand what’s happening in the Middle East.

The term, “Arab Spring” is itself misleading. The changes over the past 20 months have produced a fundamental transformation of the region – but not in the way most outside observers anticipated: They reflect the replacement of the dominant Arab national identity by a more Islamic identity.

This change has been evolving for more than 40 years and did not begin in January 2011 with the demonstrations across the Middle East.

Can Romney put foreign policy in play?

This piece was updated after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s major foreign policy address on Monday. It reflects Romney’s remarks.

In the first foreign policy speech following his momentum-gaining debate against President Barack Obama, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney expanded on his vision of an “American century,” a view he tied to the legacy of leaders like General George Marshall as he outlined a muscular, moral U.S. foreign policy with American exceptionalism at its core.

Romney aimed to distinguish his world view from the president’s, as he has in far-lower-profile foreign policy speeches, promising to “change course” in the Middle East by helping to provide arms to Syrian rebels and talking and acting even tougher on Iran.

The Middle East needs its activist moment

Two days after the death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, protesters continue to mass outside of U.S. embassies in Egypt and Yemen. The protesters are apparently reacting to a low budget, anti-Muslim video made by Americans that was distributed in a trailer-like segment on YouTube. The murder of Stevens and three of his aides in Libya seems to be the work of a paramilitary group using the protests for cover. That group may or may not be affiliated with al Qaeda.

In the West, this all sadly reads as another example of Islam proving unable to deal with the consequences of free speech. It recalls the threats surrounding the publication of Mohammad in a political cartoon in a Danish newspaper, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theodoor van Gogh and the late 1980s fatwa (death sentence) decreed by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini against the novelist Salman Rushdie. The strictest adherents to Islam will tolerate no heresy, even from outsiders. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and Europe, prevailing law largely gives individuals the right to be as offensive as they want.

This is a particular problem as the pace of liberalization in the Middle East quickens. New democracies are forming. Minority voices that had been oppressed by dictators in Egypt and Libya are now being heard. More tolerant governments are replacing regimes that once tightly censored media and the Internet. More than ever before, the Muslim world is on a collision course with ideas that many of its people will find offensive, if not blasphemous.

Libya’s revolution pushes democracy forward

By Michael Ignatieff
The views expressed are his own.

We like to think we made it happen. First in Kosovo, now in Libya, we believe our air power made it happen. Western politicians are taking the credit, but the truth is, we didn’t make it happen, any more than we made the Arab Spring happen and the air operation itself would never have been approved at the UN without the green light from the Arab League. The people of Libya, the peoples of the Middle East made it happen. We all need to understand how little of this is about us. Otherwise we risk succumbing to the illusion that we can shape the future in the Middle East.

The power we exercised in the sky gives us little control over what happens next. This is not just because we don’t have boots on the ground. Even when we did in the Balkans, we never controlled the way events rolled out after the air campaign was over. The people of the Balkans wrote their own history after the intervention and the people of the Middle East will do the same.

We called Libya a civil war and intervened to help one side win, as we did in Kosovo. But Libya was not a civil war. The dictator didn’t have deep enough support to turn it into one. It was a revolution, a people against a regime, rising up without any instigation from us, with nothing but rage, humiliation and hope to guide them. We gave them air cover and they made a revolution.

Libya’s democracy has a real chance

By Daniel Serwer
The views expressed are his own.

Libyans will be getting up late tomorrow morning, having enjoyed a spectacular celebration tonight.  “The Wizard of Oz” comes to mind:  “The witch is dead, the wicked witch is dead!”

Now begins the hard work of building a more open and democratic society with some distinct advantages, and Libya has vast resources—not only the oil and gas in the ground, but also cash in foreign bank accounts.  Qaddafi’s ironic legacy is that his ill-gotten gains will fund Libya’s reconstruction.

The population is small (about 6.5 million) and more or less homogenous.  There are tribal and geographic distinctions, there are Berbers as well as Arabs, there are blacker people and whiter people and there are rich and poor.  But none of these differences has yet emerged as a source of widespread violence.

Day 1 of the Libyan experiment

By Kyle Scott
The opinions expressed are his own.

The U.S. has avoided some of the mistakes it made in Iraq and Afghanistan in its dealings with Egypt and Libya. While the context of the Arab Spring is entirely different from that of the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan, the thought that democracy could be forced upon a nation has been avoided by the Obama administration in a post-Mubarak Egypt and a post-Gaddafi Libya. With Gaddafi’s death today, the challenge now is to continue taking this view while helping Libya move toward democracy. Working towards a successful transition requires adherence to two rules: A bottom-up system will be much more successful than a top-down one. The system that works in the U.S. may not work in these countries.

Top-down systems require coercion and manipulation to get things done. Bottom-up systems govern through consent. One works on domination and the other on cooperation. The uprising in Egypt was certainly bottom-up, but the government that has supplanted Mubarak is decidedly top-down. The prospect for Egypt looks bleak if the goal is to establish a representative system of government in which the majority retains the right to rule but the rights of the minority are safeguarded. It is not only because dissident voices are being quieted and religious minorities are being persecuted that the future looks bleak, it’s because once power is gained, particularly in a top-down centralized regime, reform is difficult as power tends to entrench itself as the Egyptian people know all too well.

Libya is fertile ground for an individual or group to seize power, or for a foreign nation to come in and impose its style of government on the people of Libya. Moreover, the disparate ethnic and tribal factions that have a history of violence towards one another makes a political power grab seem likely. A bottom-up system, or federalism, can secure a peaceful transition. A federal arrangement is flexible enough to incorporate all groups into the government which gives them voice and access. Rather than a unitary system that is governed only by a nationwide majority which can ignore the interests and needs of a minority, a federal system grants a geographically concentrated ethnic or religious group the authority to govern itself under the coordination of a central regime in which it also has representation.

A new beginning for Libya

By Stefan Wolff
The views expressed are his own.

The fall of Sirte and the death of Colonel Gaddafi today most likely represents the finishing blow for the remnants of the old regime in Libya. They are a highly valuable prize that the National Transitional Council (NTC) fought hard to obtain and that should trigger the formal transition period that Libya’s now widely recognized government has envisaged to lead to democratic elections and a new constitution. Comparable only to the fall of Tripoli in late August, today marks a momentous achievement for a popular movement that twelve months ago was hardly conceivable, let alone in existence. For all intents and purposes, Libya’s is the only successful uprising of the Arab Spring to date.

Though Libyans and their allies across the world are right to celebrate, we must not ignore the challenges ahead. Building a new and legitimate state in Libya remains a difficult task. Gaddafi’s death may well take the sting out of any loyalist resistance for now. The question of what the NTC will do with Gaddafi – try him in Libya or extradite him to the International Criminal Court – no longer exists, but there are others from his inner circle that will have to be dealt with in the future. Both trials at home, like Saddam Hussein’s, and trials abroad, like those handled by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, have their different problems and neither option is likely to avoid a sense of victors’ (in-) justice among Gaddafi loyalists.

There might now be fewer Gaddafi supporters, but those that remain will be no less determined and might find a new leader in any of Gaddafi’s inner circle that is still at large, initially most likely in his son Saif al-Islam. In other words, the security threat is likely to diminish, but will almost certainly not evaporate completely or quickly. At the same time, NTC forces must resist the temptation of vengeful retribution. The fierce fighting in Sirte in particular was highly costly, but as much as the NTC benefitted from a UN Security Council Resolution that mandated a military operation to protect civilians, as much does it now have a responsibility to make sure that crimes are prosecuted through the courts, not by lynch mobs.

What’s behind Libya’s fast march to democracy?

By Daniel Serwer
The views expressed are his own.

In a trip to Libya this month, just weeks after Muammar Qaddafi’s fall, I found peace coming fast to Tripoli, despite continued resistance in several Libyan towns.  Ten days ago, families with children mobbed Martyrs’ square, where Qaddafi once held forth, to commemorate the hanging 80 years ago of Libya’s hero of resistance against the Italians, Omar Mukhtar. Elementary schools opened last week. The university will open next month. Water and electricity are flowing. Uniformed police are on the street. Trash collection is haphazard but functioning.

This is the fastest post-war recovery I have witnessed: faster than Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan. Certainly faster than Somalia, Sierra Leone or Rwanda.

Why this rapid recovery in a country marked by four decades of dictatorship? Why does Libya seem on track while Egypt seems to have gone off the rails?

  •