U.N. to Consider Libyan Slaughter as U.S. Citizens Still Trapped in Tripoli
“I think the Saudis are worried that they’re encircled — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon; Yemen is unstable; Bahrain is very uncertain. They worry that the region is ripe for Iranian exploitation. Iran has shown that it is very capable of taking advantage of regional instability.”
-- Ali Reza Nader, an expert in international affairs with the RAND Corporation, talking to the New York Times
President Obama announced Thursday that he has asked his administration to prepare the “full range of options” in confronting Libyan despot Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, presently slaughtering his citizens as a civil war grips his nation.
There are ample U.S. military resources in the Middle East and the Mediterranean for a strike against Qaddafi’s army, built with petro bucks but divided by the same ethnic and regional divisions that are now rending the nation. The Pentagon probably could prepare some options for crippling Qaddafi’s military on the back of an envelope on the ride over to the White House.
But the first option Obama is seeking is the help of the United Nations. Obama has dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva for an emergency meeting of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council to discuss the Libyan massacre.
Presumably, one of the first orders of business Friday will be to talk about Libya’s status as a member of the council. The Bush administration refused to join the council because it included notorious human rights abusers like Libya, Cuba and China as well as a number of sketchy regimes like those in Angola, Kyrgyzstan and Uganda.
The Libyan legation to the U.N. has publicly broken with Qaddafi and deplored his use of the military to mow down separatists in the eastern part of the country, so presumably the Libyan diplomats will be heard from at the conclave. But what will their status be? How will Libya be regarded for parliamentary purposes? That’s got to be worth a half-dozen motions right there.
The council, even when there is overwhelming evidence of genocide and mass murder, has often been slow to produce a resolution. Sudan was drenched in blood for years in genocide by the Muslim government against Christian and tribal groups before the council roused itself to a condemnation. Iran is still largely unaddressed. The body has, however, censured Israel 15 times for its dealings with its Arab neighbors and once condemned the entire Western World for failing to address global warming.
Cuban dictator emeritus Fidel Castro has already said that the U.S. is more concerned about securing Libya’s oil than protecting its people, so it will not likely be a unanimous call for swift and certain justice for Qaddafi in Geneva today.
But Qaddafi doesn’t need much time to secure his position in the south and west of his nation. Reports today describe a massive, murderous army gathering outside Tripoli. Remember that Qaddafi has for decades trained and equipped the most rotten of the African military regimes. The limited press reports from the country say that a ragtag force of foreign fighters and members of his army from the tribes still loyal to the Qaddafi family are preparing to secure the south and west.
What’s shaping up is an ethnic purge of disloyal ethnic groups. Whether the obviously mad Qaddafi means to retake the rebel Cyrenaica region to the east or just consolidate power in the Tripolitania and Fezzan regions. Certainly, Qaddafi and his sons, who command the lead corps of his army, will seek to secure the country’s massive petroleum reserves in Sirte Basin, which covers the middle of the country. That will mean at least some incursions into the rebel east.
The most pressing concern for America, though, is a ferryboat full of some 600 U.S. citizens being tossed about by high seas in Tripoli Harbor, well in reach of Qaddafi’s attacks. The boat, chartered by the State Department and bound for Malta, is reportedly stuck there until Friday because of bad weather that would capsize the small vessel.
There are no reports of any American naval vessels heading there on a rescue mission, so the chance that the groups could be killed or taken hostage is substantial.
Qaddafi and his sons must be hoping that a delay at the U.N. combined with U.S. anxiety over the ferry will give them time enough to entrench themselves before the start of negotiations begin with the world community.
Oil Shock Threatens U.S. Economy
"Central banks have had a lot of experience in managing those things. It's not rocket science."
-- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner downplaying concerns about rising energy prices while speaking at a Bloomberg News event in Washington
Oil prices hit $100 a barrel on Thursday for the first time since before the Panic of 2008, helping lead another day of economic retreat around the globe.
The problem is that even the best-case scenarios for the Middle East and North Africa mean significant disruptions in petroleum production. Coupled with the voracious demand for oil from China and other developing nations and the slight uptick in consumption from the meager economic recovery in the West, chaos in the world’s gas tank means energy prices are skyrocketing.
The growing concern among economists is that rising energy prices, which already were driving worldwide increases in the cost of food and other commodities, will not simply keep the ongoing recovery in the developed world stuck at its tepid temperature but now actually cause a double dip recession. Not stag-flation but another downturn.
The U.S. housing market is in the dumps, businesses continue to hold money back and the uncertainty sewn by deep dysfunction in Washington’s budget process have already caused worry in American markets. And neither will lending nor investor confidence be helped by news in the Wall Street Journal today that the Obama administration is backing a $20 billion fine against mortgage lenders for not being more careful in foreclosing on defaulted borrowers.
An energy shock could tip the whole thing over.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was dismissive of the idea that inflation was going to be a problem and expressed strong confidence in his former boss, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and his ability to strengthen the dollar – when the time comes.
Geither’s flip assertion that handling inflation is “not rocket science” will do little to allay mounting fears that the U.S. recovery may yet explode on the launching pad.
Republicans Embrace Wisconsin Model
“This is our moment. This is our time to change the course of history.”
-- Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisc., recorded in by a liberal blogger who tricked Walker into believing he was speaking to a billionaire patron of the conservative movement
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had his first public stumble in his standoff with government worker unions and national Democrats when his staff put him on a phone call with a pro-union prankster who was posing as billionaire David Koch.
The Koch family is the object of a remarkable obsession on the left, lately outstripping even the conservative obsession with currency speculator George Soros. The brothers Koch, David and Charles, are much hated for their political activities and free-market policies.
But, Walkers’ aides seemed unconcerned when someone presenting himself as David Koch called out of the blue on a publicly listed number for the office. Here’s a tip for Team Walker, billionaire industrialists do not generally use Skype to make phone calls and seldom make racially insensitive remarks about exploiting workers when speaking to strangers.
Walker didn’t say anything wrong in the call, but that he was duped and that he did not object to the absurd rhetoric form the faux Koch makes him look silly.
What the call has done for liberal groups, though, is confirm their suspicions that Walker’s measures in Wisconsin, still stalled by Democratic state senators who are hiding in Illinois, are part of a larger Republican effort to battle government worker unions. The collective “A-Ha!” on the left and in sympathetic media outlets over Walker being recorded as saying he was in consultation with other Republican governors is a little laughable.
The battle between conservative taxpayers and liberal taxpayer-supported unions has only just begun. In fact, it is shaping up as the dominant issue of the coming election year.
Labor groups and Democrats have been working hard to spread the labor unrest as far as possible, urging demonstrations and protests at capitals around the nation and rapidly raising campaign cash. Indiana Democratic House members got the idea to flee the state to prevent union curbing legislation from somewhere.
Would labor spend so much money and would Democrats risk the embarrassment of hiding from their elected offices if this was not a central fight?
Republicans have come to see that government worker unions are a perfect depiction of the kind of waste and entitlement that voters have come to associate with too much government.
The best evidence on Wednesday that this issue will dominate in the months to come came not from Walker but from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Daniels was flambéd in the conservative press for his “salute” on Tuesday to those opposing the labor curbs in the Indiana House. It sounded like Daniels was excusing the fugitive Democrats from his state assembly.
On Wednesday, Daniels worked overtime to make clear that he was only talking about peaceful protests, not lawmakers still on the lam. He bashed the fugitive House members and demanded that they get back to work.
Daniels and his boosters also highlighted the fact that the governor had essentially eliminated collective bargaining power for state government unions by executive order shortly after taking office in 2005.
Then, at a speech to Cincinnati-area Republicans, he ripped into government unions saying in prepared remarks: "There may have been a time when government employees needed protection and needed reform, but that was a long time ago. Public jobs grew while private jobs were lost, public salaries went up, while private sector salaries are shrinking.”
We can conclude two things: It looks like Mitch Daniels is running for president and Republicans have chosen government unions as their foil for the brutal fiscal and political fights that lay ahead.
Middle East Chaos, Pakistan Crisis, Weak Economy, Looming Budget Shutdown and… Gay Marriage?
"The decision by the Obama administration not to defend the discriminatory, so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' is a tremendous step toward recognizing our common humanity…”
-- Statement from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
To test the conventional media wisdom on the Obama administration, it is sometimes useful to play the “What if George W. Bush had done that?” game.
Politico’s headline on the story about President Obama’s decision that the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Law was unconstitutional and that his administration would stop defending it was “Little downside seen for Obama on DOMA.”
The decision by the president to change course from his 2008 campaign position and the first two years of his administration is a pretty big deal. It will no doubt hurt him with Clinton Democrats who appreciated his stance in defense of traditional marriage as a candidate.
But the biggest downside for Obama is that on the day when Libya was burning, markets were tumbling, Pakistan was bridling at American influence and labor unrest continued to grip state capitals around the country, the administration opted to offer this about face.
Some Republicans have come around to the idea of accepting gay marriage, or even abolishing the idea of state-sanctioned marriage altogether in favor of civil union system with marriage as a religious right, but this is still a very unhappy issue that deeply divides Americans.
Bush was attacked constantly for raising the issue of gay marriage in 2004 and ahead of the 2006 midterms. He was said to be using a wedge issue to fire up conservative base voters and distract Americans from deepening problems in Iraq and elsewhere. He was called cynical and exploitive for his support of a constitutional amendment establishing one-man-one-woman marriage.
For Obama, beset by domestic and international problems and losing ground in the polls, to reintroduce the issue on Thursday might have easily been described in the same fashion.
But instead, there was just “little downside.” Mainstream political reporters might benefit from playing the “What if Bush…?” game more often.
Reid Defiant on Spending Cuts
“Enacting these draconian cuts over two weeks would mean immediate, devastating impacts to the health of our economy and the safety of our communities.”
-- Jon Summers, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, denouncing a stopgap Republican proposal to keep the government operating for two weeks after current funding levels expire
House Republicans said Wednesday that they would put forward a two-week spending plan to keep the government operating when current funds run out a week from Friday. The GOP plan would cut spending by more than $4 billion – a pro-rated version of their larger plan to cut $61 billion in the final seven months of the fiscal year.
Senate Majority Harry Reid, who wants a one-month continuation of current stimulus-level funding, treated the House proposal as mere effrontery. Even without having seen where Republicans proposed to take the money, Reid dismissed the proposal.
While Democrats believe they would benefit politically from a government shutdown, Reid is looking a little high-horsed these days. The House has now made two proposals for cuts, one for longer-term reductions and one for short-term cuts. Senate Democrats have proposed none.
The members of Reid’s caucus who are facing reelection bids in red states are doubtless hoping that their leader soon drops the indignation.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Libya will probably end up as a failed state, a split state. When it's under the Italian colonial rule it was three autonomous provinces. It's all tribal. Qaddafi insisted on keeping it tribal, unlike, for example, Egypt, which has a national army.”