By Meghan O'Sullivan
Last week, President Obama made a compelling case for why he authorized force in Libya. In doing so, he sought to assure the American people that this intervention was prudent and bore no resemblance to the controversial and costly wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. He pre-empted such comparisons by explicitly stating, “to be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq” as a counterpoint for explaining why he would not seek to overthrown Qaddafi by force.
It may be both easy and convenient to dismiss the Iraq and Afghan experiences at this stage of U.S. intervention in Libya. But neither President Obama, nor the American people, would be wise to ignore the hard-won lessons that have emerged from these conflicts. In fact, while acknowledging the very different circumstances surrounding each intervention, America’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest more than a few cautionary notes and morsels of advice. Read more
By Nicholas Burns
I believe President Obama was right to take military action over the weekend to relieve the siege of Benghazi. Not doing so would have been a moral failure by the United States.
But President Obama and the coalition working with the United States in Libya have gambled in two significant ways that may come back to haunt them.
First, what is the coalition trying to achieve? Is there an agreed-upon mission? Read more
By Joseph S. Nye
In my last posting, I agreed with my colleagues that Libya did not involve vital interests, but I said that it did involve humanitarian interests and they can be important. In general, I agree with my friends that humanitarian intervention is a dangerous process, fraught with unintended consequences and costs. Thus the presumption should be against such interventions. After all, John Quincy Adams provided sound advice when he said we should not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. There are too many of them, and we cannot control or police the world.
Why then do I support the Obama Administration actions on Libya? Read more
By Graham Allison
The Obama Administration must be congratulated for its extraordinary diplomatic successes that resulted in yesterday’s victory at the United Nations Security Council, and the full endorsement of a no-fly zone over Libya by the Arab League. The issue at this point is whether the cavalry will arrive in time.
As I wrote in a recent Huffington Post op-ed, I believe the right position for the U.S. is: no-fly zone, yes; U.S. lead, no.
My central point is that the focus of the debate for the past two weeks has basically been addressing the wrong issue. The Administration has been agonizing over the question of whether the U.S. should lead a No Fly Zone. My answer: no. But that is not the end of the story. Read more
The Power Problem is an occasional series of mini-forums on Power & Policy, asking specialists from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School to suggest policy responses by the United States to pressing world issues. We invite readers to respond with comments.
We asked our experts: What should the United States do now that Qaddafi is digging in? And what is the gravest risk for the United States in the Libyan crisis?
Read other views from Nicholas Burns and Rami Khouri.
By Stephen M. Walt
By Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs; Faculty Chair, International Security Program
It is impossible to look on events in Libya without wanting to do something. On one side is a familiar villain—Muammar Qaddafi—who is using ill-gotten wealth, a well-armed military, and foreign mercenaries in a brutal attempt to maintain his hold on power. On the other side is a rebel army that rose up in response to the recent upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt and Qaddafi’s own misguided rule. If we could wave a magic wand and cause him and his family to depart, we’d do it in a heartbeat. Read more
By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen
The Power And Policy Fellows’ Forum
By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen
“President Obama creates indefinite detention system for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay,” Washington Post article, 8 March 2011
President Obama has signed an executive order that will create a formal system for prisoners deemed to pose a continuing security threat who are being held at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. With that order, the President has come a long way from his election pledge to close the prison within 12 months.
The question we should be asking is what does this decision mean in terms of defending American values? Read more
By Nicholas Burns
Today’s dramatic events in Cairo and the departure of Hosni Mubarak from power may bring to a close the first stage in what is nothing short of a revolution in Egypt’s politics and society.
What have we learned from these extraordinary last eighteen days? I can think of five immediate lessons worth thinking about.
Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on February 11, 2011. (Photo by Ramy Raoof)
First, People Power achieved this victory. For those of us who have lived in Egypt, what was always most impressive about that fascinating but impoverished country was the energy, optimism and resourcefulness of a people who had been dominated by royal and military rulers for the last century. Their idealism, passion and steadfastness during the last eighteen days overcame all of the power, privilege and cynicism of the government and overwhelmed it in the end. The role of Facebook, Twitter, Al Jazeera and CNN in magnifying the voices and faces from Tahrir Square was breathtaking and surely indicative of a new brand of politics in this still new century. Read more
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Nicholas Burns has followed up his Feb. 3 blog post on Egypt on Power & Policy with a contribution to an online forum on Foreign Policy.com. Burns says President Obama is skillfully walking a dangerous diplomatic tightrope as he works for democratic change while avoiding chaos in the region.
Burns, who was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008 before joining the Belfer Center at the Kennedy School, participated in a roundtable forum hosted by FP that called on some of the top thinkers on US policy-making in the Middle East, including Elliot Abrams, Thomas Pickering and Aaron David Miller. Read more
Graham Allison weighs potential alternative futures for Egypt in an assessment of the potential implications for the United States in the turmoil engulfing its largest Arab ally.
In a contribution to a virtual panel of experts on The Mark, a Canadian online forum, Allison says the aspirations of those taking part in such uprisings don’t always dictate the outcome. Just think of the Iranian and Russian revolutions.
Protestors from Al Azhar University gathered in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on February 1, 2011. (Iman Mosaad photo)
Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, says it is highly unlikely that any successor government in Egypt would seek to disrupt the flow of oil to the United States. However, other events in the region might do so, especially if the revolts prove contagious and spread to countries such as Saudi Arabia. Read more
By Nicholas Burns
The people’s rebellion in Egypt is the most daunting and dangerous foreign policy test of the Obama Presidency. And, it got a lot harder on Wednesday. Shocking violence by pro-Mubarak armed gangs against largely peaceful protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square raised the stakes both for an embattled Hosni Mubarak and for the U.S. government.
The attacks appear to be the first strike in a counter-offensive by Egyptian security forces to take back the streets of Cairo and reverse the momentum of the reformers who, until Wednesday, appeared on the verge of unseating Mubarak after thirty years in power. Watching the discipline and uniformity of the pro-Mubarak forces in Cairo on Wednesday led many around the world, myself included, to suspect that they were acting in concert with security forces or were part of the security establishment themselves. Whoever they were, they have turned this crisis in a new and more menacing direction. Read more