Foreign Policy

The Tea Party meets the world

With United Nations-authorized military action underway and the president finally speaking to the nation, the fighting in Libya continues. Coalition partners are debating the politics - and intended outcome - of intervention in London at this very moment. Halfway across the globe, Japan experienced a massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami, and the threat of nuclear fallout. Just over a week ago, Egypt held a constitutional referendum – the first of many steps in its post-Mubarak transition. Tunisia bumped along its path of political reform. Yemen saw escalated fighting between pro-government forces and protestors. And Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help squash pro-reform demonstrations.

As the fires of upheaval spread around the globe, here at home the Tea Party campaign to isolate America from the rest of the world continues. Indeed, by proposing draconian cuts to our international affairs budget and supporting withdrawal from the U.N. – barely a month before the Security Council authorized a military response to Libya – the Tea Party’s efforts to resurrect isolationism, as Walter Russell Mead aptly called it, have shown to be not just bad policy, but also bad business for our national interests.

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A Congressional obligation in Libya

The Arab spring that awoke in lands throughout North Africa and the Middle East was a site to behold. The spigot of unrest was too powerful, the energy too spontaneous, the movement too organic for any government to turn off.  Seasons of discontent were reversed by the keyboard clicking and smart phone tapping of a youthful generation expressing their exuberance in 140 characters on Twitter, and organizing movements of shared struggle on Facebook fan pages.

While too many lives were cut short, regimes accustomed to wielding a particular brand of power did not respond to these uprisings with sheer force that was despotically ruthless and inhumanely cruel.

There was one exception.

In Libya the fist of tyranny reigned down with brutish might on a people who refused to be excluded from this season of uprising and change.

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What America wants to hear from Obama tonight

Today as American Naval aviators in the Mediterranean wait off shore to fly combat missions against the Libyan Army, as Marines wait for the call to go ashore to rescue a downed pilot, or as Air Force pilots fly combat air patrol, we are confident that all military orders will be met with the same professionalism and skill we have come to expect of our all-volunteer force. The valor and loyalty of the men and women of our nation’s armed forces have never been in question.

And yet despite that certainty, many Americans view our military intervention in Libya with anxiety and uncertainty. They’re wondering why U.S. forces are once again engaged in combat action against an Arab regime in the Middle East. They’re wondering when this operation will end; and when their loved ones will return. And they’re asking another reasonable question; ‘What is the mission?’ 

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Constitutional problems with the Libyan war

Last week the Obama Administration took the United States to war against Libya without bothering to notify Congress, much less obtain a constitutionally-mandated declaration of war. In the midst of our severe economic downturn, this misadventure has already cost us hundreds of millions of dollars and we can be sure the final price tag will be several times higher.

Why did the U.S. intervene in a civil war in a country that has neither attacked us nor poses a threat?  We are told this was another humanitarian intervention, like Clinton’s 1999 war against Serbia. But as civilian victims of the U.S.-led coalition bombing continue to add up, it is getting difficult to determine whether the problem we are creating on the ground is worse than the one we were trying to solve. 

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Who is the enemy?

There seems to be little disagreement among Americans as to who our archenemy is these days. No doubt it is radical Islam, the people who are suicide bombing innocent civilians, who are killing our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and causing strife throughout the Middle East. But it's not our enemy we need be concerned with, it's the enemy that the Islamists see that we need to recognize. 

Any time one of our politicians or diplomats use the word crusade, lower case c, righteously meaning the war of good versus evil, in the Middle East the word is seen as Crusade with a capital C. Notice just recently when NATO was debating whether to conduct the war against Libya, the one Muslim nation in NATO, Turkey, demurred for a while strictly on the basis of the use of that epithet. The word Crusade, to the Muslim world conjures up images of hordes of Christian horsemen trampling the heathens on their way to Jerusalem, even now, ten centuries later. 

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Libya's time is now

As the popular saying goes, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the time is now or never. 

From Cairo to Benghazi people have stood their ground against entrenched despots and oligarchs to prove democracy is possible. While we all remain anxious witnesses to how this story ends, these brave individuals have shown that democracy is not anathema to Middle Eastern culture but alive and well in the hearts and minds of millions of Egyptians and Libyans, just as it resides in the hearts of Americans.

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On the Libyan border: Helping freedom fighters or terrorists?

Aid workers are on standby to assist Libyan refugees on the Egyptian and Tunisian sides of the border should a mass exodus begin. Some of my colleagues had been assessing the situation in the eastern city of Benghazi, but had to withdraw amid a government offensive. 

When it’s safe, they want to go back to ensure people get the help they need. My colleagues view themselves as serving a humanitarian purpose. They are probably unaware that their actions could be interpreted as supporting terrorists.

Sad to say, measures legislated after 9/11 now restrict aid groups abroad and prevent people fleeing dictatorships from entering the United States as refugees. As the world backs opponents of Muammar Qadhafi in Libya, it’s time to review the impact of these laws: are they doing more harm than good?

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J Street at the Knesset: Don’t push away your friends

The debate over what it means to be “pro-Israel” has long raged at dinner tables and, increasingly, in the halls of Congress, our synagogues, and community forums.

The conversation moved to the forefront of Israel’s public discourse – and our own - last week when the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, held an unprecedented committee debate on whether J Street, an American Jewish organization, is sufficiently “committed” to Israel to call itself pro-Israel. 

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Presidential leadership is missing in Libya

The Obama administration’s slow motion response to the rapidly unfolding situation in Libya is baffling. There once was a time when the United States generally, and the president specifically, was considered the leader of the free world. The U.S. would take charge, bring allies together, and confront a brutal dictator against oppression.

In the current Libya crisis, however, this leadership has come from the president... of France.

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Day eleven: Cairo, Egypt

Tonight is my last night in the region. I leave Cairo for my home in Washington tomorrow. And this weekend, as I sit with my morning papers in my comfortable chair and read about events in Libya, they will once again seem very far away. 

But events that are far away are not necessarily forgotten. And it would be impossible for me to forget all that I have seen and heard of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding here. 

Admittedly, it is very hard to know exactly what is happening throughout Libya right now from a humanitarian perspective. There are just too few observers on the ground in too few places. And having spent just one day in the country myself, I am hardly in a position to provide much evidence.

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