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Weekly Standard: In Libya, Better Late Than Never

Libyan anti-government protesters pray at the end of a small demonstration in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk as Moammar Gadhafi's forces bombarded rebel positions on the doorstep of Ajdabiya. On Thursday, the U.N. voted for a no-fly zone over Libya. i

Libyan anti-government protesters pray at the end of a small demonstration in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk as Moammar Gadhafi's forces bombarded rebel positions on the doorstep of Ajdabiya. On Thursday, the U.N. voted for a no-fly zone over Libya. Roberto Schmidt /AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Roberto Schmidt /AFP/Getty Images
Libyan anti-government protesters pray at the end of a small demonstration in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk as Moammar Gadhafi's forces bombarded rebel positions on the doorstep of Ajdabiya. On Thursday, the U.N. voted for a no-fly zone over Libya.

Libyan anti-government protesters pray at the end of a small demonstration in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk as Moammar Gadhafi's forces bombarded rebel positions on the doorstep of Ajdabiya. On Thursday, the U.N. voted for a no-fly zone over Libya.

Roberto Schmidt /AFP/Getty Images

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.

Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air is understandably exasperated and angered by the Obama administration's "lack of leadership and the vacillation" on Libya, to say nothing of their "weakness and incompetence." I couldn't agree more with his exasperation and anger — and reading team Obama's juvenile excuses and shallow rationalizations for not having acted until now (see, e.g. today's New York Times article) made me not just angry but almost sick.

Having said that, I must respectfully take issue with Morrissey's notion that "the axiom 'better late than never' doesn't apply in warfare." It sometimes does apply. It was better to act late rather than never in Bosnia in 1995, and for that matter in Iraq (when we should have acted in 1991). It certainly would have been better to have acted sooner in Libya — as many of us have been urging — but in this case the situation still seems fluid, and we shouldn't let up making the case for action, especially since the administration finally seems to be considering serious action.

The fact is, we don't know that it's too late to affect the outcome in Libya. A combination of no-fly and no-drive zones, and a willingness to use force at least to prevent Gadhafi from conquering the Bengazi enclave, could well still make a difference. And as Max Boot explains, getting to a standoff might still lay the groundwork for the defeat of Gadhafi. So we shouldn't excuse the Obama administration from acting today or tomorrow because they should have acted two weeks ago.

The outcome in Libya remains too important for U.S. interests (Gadhafi in power after all this, with all the resources he has, is a nightmare in terms of terror and even weapons of mass destruction), U.S. principles, and the future of the Middle East, for us to give up hope now. Believing the Obama administration might still do the right thing, and do it moderately effectively, may involve the audacity of hope — but better that than the resignation of despair. Because the Obama administration's failure will be America's failure, for which we could pay a price for a long time.

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