USIP experts respond to President Obama's speech on U.S. military intervention in Libya.

March 29, 2011

USIP experts respond to President Obama’s speech on U.S. military intervention in Libya.

Stephen J. Hadley, former national security adviser and USIP senior adviser for international affairs, on possible outcomes in Libya:

"It depends on the Libyan people and whether they will use the opportunity presented by the action of the international community to free themselves from this tyrant. Only the end of Qaddafi's rule will both stop the regime's killing of its own people and send a message to other dictatorial regimes that they cannot save themselves by attacking their own citizens."

Robin Wright, joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, on the implications for Iran:

"Libya represents a dilemma for Iran. Tehran has been critical of U.S. military interventions in the Islamic world, notably Iraq and Afghanistan. But Iran has also backed the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. It even claimed credit for helping inspire them. Libya's rebellion is part of the same political phenomenon. The bottom line is that Iran is quick to criticize the United States, but it also does not have much affection for Qaddafi. And the two Arab allies-Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (especially Dubai)-that are part of the coalition against Libya are the two Gulf regimes friendly with Iran. The Islamic Republic is much more focused on the political crises in Syria and Bahrain, where it has immediate and long-term interests."

Steve Heydemann, a leading expert on Middle East politics, on the regional impact:

"President Obama's message was carefully targeted at addressing American concerns about military action in Libya, not Arab perceptions of U.S. policy. And in talking to Americans, he a made a persuasive argument for limited intervention, and why the Libyan case is different. For Arab audiences, the speech will not provide an equally compelling answer about why Libya, but not Syria, Yemen, or Bahrain. To protesters confronted by regime bullets, the distinctions the president drew in his speech are likely to ring a bit hollow."

Lawrence Woocher, USIP senior program officer, on the U.S.’s soft power:

"[E]ngaging seriously in preventing atrocities signals powerfully to the world that U.S.’s rhetorical commitments to human rights and liberty are not empty. This enhances America’s 'soft power,' helping to foster an international environment that is conducive to promoting American goals."

Read the full interview with Lawrence Woocher

Scott Worden, author of “Analyzing Post-Conflict Justice and Islamic Law,” on international coordination:

"President Obama's speech, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s and Secretary Robert Gates’ comments over the weekend, indicated that his administration is taking a more nuanced approach to defining us foreign policy interests. Countries are no longer ‘with us or against us.’ There is instead a spectrum of issues to be considered including the threat of atrocities, the will of our allies, the strength of the opposition, and international consensus. This allows for needed flexibility in a complex environment. But it also allows for a range of outcomes in between 'winning' and 'losing.’ It remains to be seen whether at the end of the engagement the public or the U.S. Congress will be happy if the end result is 'a tie.'”

Paul Hughes, senior program officer, on the military action in Libya:

"Stretched by the recent Iraq War and the ongoing operations in Afghanistan, the military knows too well how much has been asked of it. Despite its high level of operational tempo, the military will do what is asked of it."

Read the full interview with Paul Hughes

Andrew Blum, a USIP program officer, on how the developments in Libya are playing out in Sudan:

"The government of Sudan, particularly the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), already dealing with the political shockwaves of the coming secession of southern Sudan, is now confronting the threats posed by the political revolutions sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. As would be the case with any ruling party in their situation, there is a debate going on within the NCP between those who believe political reform and an opening of the political system is necessary to stay in power and those who believe that the threat posed by developments outside Sudan call for a closing down of avenues of dissent."

Perhaps paradoxically, the situation in Libya, and President Obama’s speech on the military intervention there, gives both sides new arguments in this debate. Reformers can argue that the international community has now clearly demonstrated its commitment to reform and that reform movements inside Sudan will be emboldened to act. All of this supports their argument that the NCP must get out in front of the changes taking place in the region in order to stay in power. On the other hand, those supporting a further crackdown will argue that Libya illustrates the risks of a political opening, including a descent into full-scale civil war and foreign military aggression against Sudan. Invoking the danger of civil war has a particular resonance in Sudan, which unlike the other countries experiencing political uprisings, has a very recent history of brutal conflict. Given the fast moving dynamics inside the NCP, within Sudan and within the region, it is simply unknowable at the moment which side will come out on top in this debate.

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