Fractures Emerge in Anti-Qaddafi Coalition
“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone. And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.”
-- Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, condemning the U.S.-led air assault on Libya
A second day of U.S. air strikes on Libyan positions came amid deepening anxieties among coalition partners about the means and objectives of the effort there.
American military leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have promised that the U.S. role would soon fade to logistics and support once the mission no longer required “special capabilities” inherent to our military.
While the forces of Libyan Dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi seemed to be in disarray following sustained bombardment from American forces, there did not seem to be signs of an immediate end to his 42-year reign.
The dictator has promised to arm a 1 million-citizen militia and the regime has reportedly been amassing civilians in likely American targets, like airports. There were unconfirmed reports that Qaddafi had moved human shields into his presidential compound before a strike – potentially one of the few not carried out by the U.S. – devastated the palace.
American attacks have come from sub-based missiles, high-altitude bombardment from stealth bombers and close-in strikes by Marine jump jets. But appearing on “FOX News Sunday” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated the promise that once the situation was stabilized, it would be European and Arab jets enforcing a no-fly zone.
But the coalition is currently suffering from a lack of direction and waning support.
Turkey blocked a bid to have NATO take over command of the operation, called Odyssey Dawn. The Arab League, which helped spur a sudden shift in the Obama administration late last week by calling for a no-fly zone, is now expressing misgivings about the size and ferocity of the effort.
The Russians and Chinese, who withheld a Security Council veto of a French-British-U.S. resolution allowing any military steps short of ground forces, are already tut-tutting the shock-and-aweish nature of the effort so far.
Much has been written about the conflict between the State Department and the Pentagon in the run up to the attacks on Libya – State reportedly favored action while the Pentagon publicly and privately warned of the cost and consequences of such a mission.
One retired general suggested to Power Play that while Hillary Clinton’s agency may have won the debate about intervention “it’s still up to the war fighters to fight wars.” The general’s “informed guess” was that the Pentagon was not interested in having weaker members of the coalition dictate strategy and insisted instead on overwhelming force if U.S. forces were to be put at risk.
What Qaddafi will now do – quit, stand and fight, retreat and retrench in his oil-rich tribal homeland, start a long-term terror war against his enemies – will largely dictate options for the U.S.
The Libyan military is out in support of a cease-fire with the rebels and the Obama administration has been inconsistent on the question of whether the president’s original requirement of regime change is still operant. Certainly, Qaddafi knows that the longer this drags on, the more likely the coalition against him will break down.
Liberals Rue Obama’s Attack on Libya
“There’s a lot of anxiety from some people who see this as Iraq all over again.”
-- House Democratic aide to Power Play discussing Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya
There is bipartisan grumbling on Capitol Hill that President Obama, despite his denunciations of his predecessor for failing to further consult with Congress over invading Iraq, told lawmakers about his Libya attack plans rather than seeking approval or advice in advance.
While most Republicans say they would have given authority for the air strikes undertaken so far, there is growing concern on the right that the military, already obligated to fighting two wars, will be further stretched if the situation in Libya devolves. House Speaker John Boehner says he wants to know exactly what the mission is before the mission changes again.
There is deepening anxiety among Democrats though. While liberals generally appreciate the efforts to obtain U.N. blessing for the operation, there is unhappiness that Obama did less to consult with Congress about his Libyan attack than President George W. Bush did in advance of his invasion of Iraq.
Bush obtained authorization for the use of force from Congress long before the war and even before he went in search of international approval. The complaint in Congress was actually that Bush had sought approval too far in advance and that the situation had changed before the invasion (today marks the eight-year anniversary of the first major land battle of the invasion, the Battle of Nasiriyah). Later they would claim that they had been misled into supporting the war (Sen. John Kerry) or that they had assumed that Bush would not make use of the authority they had granted (then-Sen. Hillary Clinton).
Obama, meanwhile, offered only a perfunctory conference call for Congressional leaders after committing U.S. forces to a coalition strike.
And in weekend remarks during his family’s five-day tour of Latin America, Obama did little to clarify what the goals were in Libya.
“No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear,” Obama said in a brief statement.
Many sincere liberals broke with Obama in December 2009 over his decision to embrace the Bush doctrine in Afghanistan by committing 30,000 troops to a now open-ended surge. That disappointment has been reinforced by the current administration’s decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war camp open and to make use of domestic spying.
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore is one of those who have long lamented their support for Obama over establishment candidate Clinton in 2008. Moore jeered Obama via Twitter over the weekend writing “May I suggest a 50-mile evacuation zone around Obama's Nobel Peace Prize?”
But while the administration has long had problems with what former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs once sneered at as “the professional left” there is a new political risk from offending more moderate Democrats, especially those on the Hill, by a dismissive and disengaged strategy for dealing with Congress.
Having so pilloried Bush, many Democrats in Congress now feel embarrassed to be treated so cursorily by a president who once joined them in their denunciations of executive power run amok.
Whatever the coming hours in Libya bring, agitation in Congress, particularly at a time when Congress is looking for ways to save money, means lots of pressure to quickly minimize U.S. involvement.
Egypt Election May Point Direction for Broader Revolt
“[The election results] do not reflect the victory of one group over another or the strength of one current more than the others. They reflect the desire of the people for stability.”
-- Ali Abdel Fattah, a leading member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, speaking to Bloomberg News
Egyptian voters overwhelmingly ratified a series of quick fixes to the country’s constitution which observers say will be of great benefit to the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Twitter-fueled youth revolutionaries opposed the measures on the grounds that a quick election and minimal reforms would not give them enough time to form political parties. The new measures, they say, set the stage for a revised version of the military-backed government of Hosni Mubarak, but this time with the inclusion of the Islamist groups.
The coalition of Islamists and military defectors currently leading the Libyan rebel forces echoes such an arrangement.
Meanwhile, the three-month old rebellion that has swept the Muslim world continues to afflict U.S. friends and foes alike. The Saudi and Bahraini governments are still cracking down on Iranian-backed rebels while massive unrest has been reported inside the Syrian police state.
A Year Later, Obamacare Remains Uncertain and Unpopular
"This is a historic day, and we are happy warriors. We will be a part of history, joining Franklin Delano Roosevelt's passage of Social Security, Lyndon Johnson's passage of Medicare, and now Barack Obama's passage of health care."
-- Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., on March 21, 2010 heralding final passage of President Obama’s national health care law
A year ago, Democrats touted a Kaiser Foundation poll that showed a 46 percent favorable rating for President Obama’s national health care law compared to only a 40 percent unfavorable rating.
Now, on the one-year anniversary of final passage of the multi-trillion-dollar law that requires every American to purchase private insurance or be enrolled in an approved government program, the same poll shows favorable views of the law down to 42 percent with unfavorable views up to 46 percent.
It’s just one poll and a 4-point negative rating is not huge, but the flip in the poll so often cited by Democrats in support of their case is significant. Other surveys have shown longer and more consistent opposition.
The administration is promising a week-long blitz in support of the law, but with a fresh war in Africa and the president with his family on a five-day tour of Latin America, it seems highly unlikely that this week’s events will be much more than perfunctory.
Aside from sustained public misgivings about the law, the administration is also contending with deep uncertainty about its solidity.
It is widely expected to be at least another year before the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of a law in which the government requires the purchase of a product. And in order to blunt complaints from states, local governments, unions and employers that the law will be unaffordable and disruptive, the administration has granted more than 1,000 waivers from elements of the law.
The political strategy on the Obama law was to frontload goodies and save the pain until after the president has been re-elected. Under that strategy, the law would be little discussed except to talk about the kindness of a system that allows 26-year-olds to mooch their parent’s health insurance, etc.
But the legal challenge guarantees that the fundamentals of the law will continue to be debated in the heat of the presidential election. If Obama can’t make a stronger case for his signature law, it will be a serious liability to his re-election.
Japan Needs Big Money
-- Estimate from the World Bank of the recovery cost from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami
The good news in a World Bank report just out on the Japan earthquake: the disruptions to the Asian economy will be limited mostly to supply-chain interruptions. It is widely assumed that China and others can quickly pick up the slack from Japan’s debilitated manufacturing sector.
The bad news is that the cost to Japan of recovering from earthquake, tsunami and ongoing radiation leaks is huge -- $235 billion. If the rebuilding costs were a country, they would be the 35th largest economy in the world, between Finland and the United Arab Emirates.
The World Bank assures that Japan can finance the reconstruction itself despite a massive national debt – double the size of the country’s economy. But that finding also means that Japan will have to dramatically curtail its purchases of U.S. debt and will also need to pay handsome sums to those willing to buy Japanese bonds.
That means the U.S. government will have to pay more to float its own debt. If the Japanese start aggressively shucking off Treasuries, that means the cost of financing the massive U.S. debt could climb quickly.