How Obama could turn the crisis in Libya to America's advantage.

Military analysis.
Feb. 22 2011 6:07 PM

What To Do About Qaddafi

How Obama could turn the crisis in Libya to America's advantage.

Read more of Slate's coverage of the  Libyan protests.

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Just a year ago, Russia signed a deal to sell $1.8 billion in arms to Libya—this on top of multibillion-dollar contracts, signed in 2008, to build a railway line and assist in energy production.

BP and the Russian government announced on Monday that they were taking all their workers out of the country—a move that they, and perhaps some interested parties in Libya, would like to see reversed in the near future.


In other words, there are many forces out there, private and public, with mutual and overlapping interests in seeing Qaddafi go soon.

Their wishes may come true, judging from reports that opposition rebels have essentially taken over the eastern part of the country, even hoisting the flag of pre-Qaddafi Libya, and luring at least some of the military units garrisoned there to join their side of the struggle.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized in an interview today on Al Jazeera, "The events in each country"—Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and now Libya—"have been up to the people in that country." The United States, he said, would be happy "to see how we can support this kind of change in a way that is meaningful, but," he added, "it is up to the people of the country to make the decisions about their own future."

Let's hope that we are already engaged in seeing how we can support this kind of change, as Mullen delicately put it—and that we're working in coalition with other interested parties in the region and beyond.

Let's also hope that, after Qaddafi falls, whatever we may or may not be doing now, Congress will get over its customary suspicion of foreign aid and pony up billions of dollars—and not just for Libya. It costs money to help nurture the civil institutions without which popular protests degenerate into anarchy or boomerang into dictatorship. But it's worth more to national security than any number of billions of dollars spent on nuclear submarines or aircraft carriers.

Libya in the time of Qaddafi's twilight poses one of those rare opportunities when America's interests and ideals really do coincide. It would be a shame to let it pass by.

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