For many, the American engagement in Libya is an enigma. Was the use of American aircraft a humanitarian mission to prevent a bloodbath, were these planes deployed to assist the so-called rebels, were they called on to send a message to Gadhafi — perhaps even oust him?
There has been speculation about all of these objectives. To complicate matters, President Obama’s speech about Libya was filled with clichés and was sufficiently ambiguous to have the public arrive at any conclusion (We want Gadhafi deposed, but that is not a policy objective.)
But now that the dust is settling even as the battles continue, it is increasingly clear, based on commentary from Samantha Powers and Ann Marie Slaughter, foreign policy advisers, that the objective was different from those widely considered.
The Libyan exercise was a test case for transnational progressivism. It was predicated from the start on multilateral cooperation and building consensus within the United Nations. How else could one explain the president’s consultation with the Security Council rather than the House of Representatives?
This limited action, what the president described amusingly as a “kinetic military operation,” was based on British, French, and U.S. cooperation and a green light from the Security Council nations. Now there is nothing new about multilateralism. Surely the war in Afghanistan and even Iraq demonstrate this point. What is new is the seeming willingness of this government to abandon national sovereignty, to allow the U.N. to determine how American forces would be deployed.
While one-world advocates have argued for the abandonment of nation states, they have finally found a president who agrees with their goals — President Obama once described himself as a “citizen of the world,” but at the time the remark was considered rhetorical hyperbole. Little did anyone know that this was a serious definition of his role.
For acolytes of this position, such as Fareed Zakaria among others, the declining economic and military strength of the United States warrants multilateral action. However, once this view is adopted as policy there is little turning back. Declinism has its own set of policy options.
That transnationalism was the objective in Libya above all other objectives is manifest in the failure to achieve any other goals. Gadhafi appears ensconced in Tripoli. The rebels are still on the defensive. Lives of civilians remain at risk. And if humanitarian impulses are driving policy, why not intervene in the Sudan or the Ivory Coast where thousands have been and continue to be slaughtered?
If the U.S. is headed down the path of transnationalism, Americans ought to debate this matter. Should American treasure and blood be sacrificed under a U.N. banner by a multinational body that invariably displays anti-American sentiment? Even if the U.S. is losing the dominant global position it once had, it is the only nation possessing the weapons and logistics to be an international balance wheel.
As I see it, rather than a loss of resources that is driving policy, it is a loss of will, an emotional fatigue. The consequence is that many former internationalists eager to retain their stance have turned to transnationalism as an alternative. In doing so, however, policy makers cede control and independent action. They cede sovereign rights as well.
It is hard to imagine how destabilizing the world will be with the draw down of U.S. global forces and political vacuums filled by the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians. With all of the imperfections in American policy, no nation in this century and the last has been more generous in coming to the aid of others in war and peace than the United States.
If the Libyan action is a foreshadowing of a new American stance, the world will be a much more dangerous place than it is at the moment and U.S. sovereignty will clearly be called into question.
Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Publishers).
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