The Global Citizen

Search form

March 2011

The Senator and Libya

Libyan Opposition

Last night I had a conversation with a Senator, who I consider a friend, about Libya.  It was a private conversation so I won’t mention his name.  But after listening to President Obama’s speech, he was still very concerned about what the U.S. was doing in Libya. For him, the concept that we were there to protect civilians wasn’t good enough.  Nor was the concept that if the international community didn’t weigh in, then in President Obama’s words, “if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

When this senator first ran for office, one of the questions I asked him was, “under what circumstances would you vote to authorize the president to take military action?” He viewed, “military action as an instrument of last resort in international relations” and listed 5 standards which I believe are reasonable.  I also believe the UN authorized actions that the US has taken in Libya meet these criteria.  Let me know what you think:

Recap of CGS 2011 Conference: Lobby Day

On Friday, the second day of’ 2011 Conference, members took action and went to Capitol Hill to lobby their Congress people to protect funding for the United Nations and stand up against genocide by passing a comprehensive genocide prevention bill.  The general feeling was that visits were successful, as the Congressional staffers were for the most part receptive and sympathetic to our cause.  Some members found their Congress people whole heartedly supportive of our initiatives while others ran into cautious staff intent on avoiding commitments.

My personal experience was enhanced as I was able to lobby with CGS Board member Jordan Bankhead.  Besides getting along well, Jordan and I proved to be a good team in our lobby visits, with the offices of my Senator, Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Jordan’s Senator, Roger Wicker (R-MS).  It was the first time lobbying for both of us, as was the case with many who participated in lobby day.  Lobbying is a little nerve wrecking the first time, but Jordan and I were able to communicate all of our points, answer the necessary questions, and have a pleasant conversation during our first visit with a staffer in Senator Menendez’s office.  Senator Menendez is very good on most of our issues, so the meeting went well.  The staffer did make clear that although Senator Menendez supports our issues, it is important that we keep telling him that he’s doing a good job and showing our support for his actions so that he keeps making the right decisions.

Recap of CGS 2011 Conference: Day 1’ 2011 Conference, Global Challenges:  Global Solutions, was a major success thanks to the plethora of distinguished speakers and the energy and passion of those who attended.  The conference took place in the cozy Carriage House near Dupont Circle where people listened to speakers, asked questions, and debated various important issues of international relations, the role of the U.S. and the UN in the world, and an assortment of other topics.  Members came from 24 different states including as far as Maine, California, Arizona, Minnesota, and Mississippi.

The conference kicked off with a presentation by Suzanne Nossel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.  Ms. Nossel spoke about the importance of U.S. engagement with the United Nations in solving the many difficult problems we face in the world today.  As a member of the State Department, she was able to offer CGS members insight into how her department operates and works with international organizations.

Following Ms. Nossel and a report by CGS Chief Executive Officer, Don Kraus, on the state of the organization (it’s doing well), people scattered to various rooms for different breakout sessions including Lobby Training, The UN and You, and Congress 101.  Lobby Training provided a solid foundation for those new to lobbying on Capitol Hill with background on the two lobby day issues, Genocide Prevention and UN Funding, and tips on how to lobby most effectively.

Resolution 1973. Think twice tyrants!

Resolution 1973 adopted last week by the United Nations Security Council authorizing a multinational intervention into Libya has created a new precedent for the enforcement of international law.  Resolution 1973 incorporates principles that the international community has been hopeful to see come to life.  These include the “responsibility to protect,” jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the loss of sovereignty for governments that commit mass atrocities, and the principle of “human security.”  These principles were expressed when the Resolution provided that the international community was “to take all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack….”  This is a momentous statement, especially with regard to traditional U.S. military action.  The driving force of the strategy enunciated by the Security Council is civilian protection, not regime change.  Civilian causalities represent a failure in mission objective, rather than merely collateral damage.  The world is finally recognizing, and with haste I might add, the responsibility to protect world citizens from imminent danger.

The Resolution is a display of ‘teeth’ by the United Nations Security Council.  In the face of criticism that the United Nations has no ability to back-up its resolutions or treaties, a multilateral force has come together and offered real military power to support the Security Council.  The time when tyrants and rogue states could commit atrocities with no accountability has come to an end.  The actions that are being taken against Muammar Gaddafi will resonate in the thoughts of all of those who conceive of committing human rights violations in the future.

Different Philosophies: Iraq and Libya

I was struck during President Obama’s speech last night at the stark contrast between the President’s language on Libya and the language of former President George W. Bush in the lead up to the Iraq War.  In President Obama’s speech, he referred to “protecting Libyan civilians” (or a variation of that) six times.  He stated, "As President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action." In President Bush’s 2003 speech on the eve of war, civilian protection wasn’t mentioned once, while “weapons of mass destruction”, which we learned to be non-existent, were mentioned seven times.  In President Bush’s speech the desires and safety of the Iraqi people were merely an afterthought and improving the lives of Iraqis was simply another minor justification for an unjust, costly war.  There are many other significant differences between Iraq and Libya, one of which is the administrations' different views on American leadership.

President Bush believed that as the most powerful nation in the world, we could do whatever we wanted and solve any international problem by ourselves.  He believed that the United States had a responsibility to invade Iraq, take out Saddam Hussein, get involved in Sectarian warfare, and install a government on our terms.  President Obama has a very different philosophy on our role as a leader in global affairs.  He knows that we can’t fix every problem by ourselves and that we need to work with our allies through the UN, NATO and other international bodies to resolve the complicated conflicts in our world today.  

Obama on Libya

President Obama gave what I consider to be a great speech on Libya tonight.  Here's an excellent quote:

Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security - responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America's problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world's most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

In such cases, we should not be afraid to act - but the burden of action should not be America's alone. As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action. Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.

Time for a UN With a Protection Force in Libya

UN Peacekeeper

As posted in the Huffington Post

I recently returned from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where I gave a speech on UN reform at a conference on "Global Strategic Developments: A Futuristic Vision".  It was an incredibly interesting place to get a perspective on the conflict in Libya. Speakers at the conference included the UAE's Foreign Minister, the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council and former US Secretary of State Colin Powell. The participants at the conference were from around the Arab world, Europe, the U.S., and many other nations.

There seems to be a general consensus that while the "no fly zone" will not stop the conflict in Libya, it is a necessary evil. Gaddafi has gone too far. I've heard comments like, "Gaddafi is crazy. No one should do this to his people."

While simply denying him his air force and armor has not stopped the fighting, it has stopped Gaddafi's ability to use his planes to strike at peaceful protesters.  But in Libya, the protesters of a few weeks ago have either hunkered down or are now part of the opposition force.

The no fly zone has bought opposition fighters more time and evened the odds.  And it has had another important impact: if Gaddafi had been allowed to overwhelm the Libyan opposition, it would have sent a chilling message to other beleaguered leaders facing popular protest that it was okay to use unmitigated violence to maintain power.

Ivory Coast: The Crisis You're Not Hearing About

Ivory Coast

While the world’s attention is focused, and understandably so, on the events unfolding in Libya, another conflict and brewing humanitarian crisis has been unfolding on the other side of Africa for months.  Ivory Coast, the small West African nation which saw a disputed presidential election result in a political stalemate late last year, is sliding ominously downhill towards civil war.

The November 2010 election in the country resulted in a victory - widely recognized by the international community - for candidate Alassane Ouattara over incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo.  However, Gbagbo has refused to leave office and has ordered U.N. peacekeepers out of his country, though they have remained anyway.  Now four months later, Gbagbo is still clinging to power, and opposition rebels supporting Ouattara have been battling with his forces.  Meanwhile U.N. peacekeepers have surrounded the hotel where Ouattara is living in order to protect him, and are also attempting to protect civilians in the country. 

However, there have been several incidents of violence towards civilians in which peacekeepers have been unable to intervene.  Meanwhile, conflict between pro-Gbagbo forces and anti-Gbagbo rebels continues.  The humanitarian situation is growing increasingly dire, with the U.N. saying up to a million people have fled the city of Abidjan, many to neighboring Liberia.  While the eyes of the world remain fixed on Libya, the crisis in Ivory Coast continues to worsen far from the media glare.

The Truth about Libya

This week, an array of analysts, Congress people, and talk show hosts from the usual suspects on the right to Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and John Stewart on the left, have aggressively attacked President Obama on his course of action in Libya.  The three most common criticisms are:  1) The President did not allow Congress to authorize force in Libya; 2) The President has not defined the mission in Libya to the American people and 3) that we can’t pick and choose to intervene in Libya, but not Yemen or Bahrain.  Such criticisms have led some to call the mission in Libya a pre-determined failure and comparisons have been made to the Iraq War of President George W. Bush.  These concerns are misplaced and untimely as the current action being taken in Libya represents a crucial precedent in civilian protection, responsible international cooperation and the responsibility to protect.

Many in Congress, including Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and others, have complained that President Obama did not let Congress vote to authorize “war” with Libya and therefore, military action in Libya is unconstitutional and flawed to the point of being a huge mistake.  What’s unfortunately being overlooked is that the decision to institute a no-fly zone and take military action to protect Libyan civilians was made by the United Nations Security Council - a governing body in which we, the American people, are represented.  As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, we also have the power to veto and kill any resolution before the Council. 

Stewart gets it wrong

During his show on Monday, comedian Jon Stewart complained about the U.S. involvement in the military operations against Moammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya.  Stewart quoted Barack Obama, who in 2007, as a U.S. Senator said:  "The President does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."  Stewart used this quote to criticize the actions being taken President Obama this week against Libya. Senator Obama was completely correct in his statement, but Stewart is using the quote out of context.

The military operation in Libya is not "unilaterally authorized."  It is authorized by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.  This means that Congress does not have to approve U.S. participation in the multi-nation, Security Council-sanctioned force currently attacking Libya.  Stewart compared the operation in Libya to the Iraq War which began on the same date, March 20, in 2003.  However, that war was the direct result of the U.S. ignoring and completely bypassing the UN on our way to a disastrous war involving a coalition of only a few nations.  In 2003, the UN asked the United States to wait for UN weapons inspectors to finish their task of determining whether or not Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction.  As we all know, Iraq had no WMD's, but we invaded before letting the UN inspectors do their job.