Tonight, the President laid out why he used American military might in Libya, and in so doing, laid out what European commentators have been calling “The Obama Doctrine.” It’s a deliberate and considered use of force, the minimum necessary, and in concert with allies, combined with that is a series of diplomatic steps. Whether you like it or not – and people on both sides of the political spectrum have come up with various reasons why they don’t – it’s a very clear statement about what America is willing to do, and the limits. It’s also been looked at, and despite various claims by some, what he has done is in line with both treaties and US law. Blue Wave News has the text of the speech, and I recommend reading it. I’m going to highlight one part, and give a little history lesson.
The President said:
At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that 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.
It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We struck regime forces approaching Benghazi to save that city and the people within it. We hit Gaddafi’s troops in neighboring Ajdabiya, allowing the opposition to drive them out. We hit his air defenses, which paved the way for a No Fly Zone. We targeted tanks and military assets that had been choking off towns and cities and we cut off much of their source of supply. And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gaddafi’s deadly advance.
Anyone who has bothered to look at Gaddafi’s record since he took power should have no doubt of his intentions to conduct just such a massacre. Besides his treatment of his own citizens and past dissidents, he’s supported and trained a number of genocidal leaders. So yes, he would have done just that. Reports from the region don’t show too many people in the region doubting it. What he would have done would have been to follow the “Hama Rule.” Never heard of it? Most people haven’t. Here’s what that means:
Besieged by 12,000 troops, the fighting in Hama lasted for three weeks – the first week “in regaining control of the town,” and the last two “in hunting down the insurgents.” Robert Fisk in his book Pity the Nation described how civilians were fleeing Hama while tanks and troops were moving towards the city’s outskirts to start the siege. He cites reports of high numbers of deaths and shortages of food and water from fleeing civilians and from soldiers.
According to Amnesty International, the Syrian military bombed the old city center from the air to facilitate the entry of infantry and tanks through the narrow streets; buildings were demolished by tanks during the first four days of fighting. Large parts of the old city were destroyed. There are also unsubstantiated reports of use of hydrogen cyanide by the government forces. After encountering fierce resistance, Rifaat’s forces ringed the city with artillery and shelled it for three weeks.
Afterwards, military and internal security personnel were dispatched to comb through the rubble for surviving Brothers and their sympathizers. Torture and mass executions of suspected rebel sympathizers ensued, killing many thousands over several weeks.
That’s the Hama Rule – show no mercy. No, I don’t think Gaddafi was planning on being nice, he has made it very clear in his statements that he has no concern but to keep his power, no matter who – or how many – he has to kill to do so. I’m not the only one:
In February 27 the International Federation for Human Rights concluded: “Gaddafi is implementing a strategy of scorched earth. It is reasonable to fear that he has, in fact, decided to largely eliminate, wherever he still can, Libyan citizens who stood up against his regime and furthermore, to systematically and indiscriminately repress civilians. These acts can be characterized as crimes against humanity, as defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”
Do I wish that it hadn’t turned out this way? Yes, I deeply wish that Gaddafi had followed Mubarak’s example and stepped down. But he didn’t, and yes, I do remember history. So, yes, I do support what the United States has done. I do think we’ve prevented a far worse example of Hama. Whether it will be effective, what the long-term outcome will be, I do not know, and I don’t think anyone does. But we have done something. I have no desire to remember another massacre, and listen to the hand wringing about “if only.”