US invasion in Libya and Barack Obama’s mea culpa

  • Updated: Apr 19, 2016 02:58 IST
Fighters for Libya's new National Transitional Council regime at the frontline in Sirte. (AFP)

The United States of America might be a superpower, but it has presidents who have feet of clay. No this is not about the Lewinsky scandal involving the 42nd President Bill Clinton, but of commissions and omissions of a graver nature that have destabilised international peace and pushed nations into chaos.

Recently, in an interview to a news channel, US President Barack Obama has said that the worst mistake of his presidency was “failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya”. Mr Obama deserves praise for admitting the mistake, especially because he has done it while still in office. Economic and geopolitical interests have seen US’ misadventure in West Asia for more than three decades now.

Read | Obama calls Libya his ‘worst mistake’

But often realisation dawns on presidents once they leave Capitol Hill — Mr Obama’s predecessor George W Bush, in his 2010 memoir Decision Points while referring to US’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, says that “there are things we got wrong in Iraq” and in 2008 Mr Clinton said that “I do feel a lifetime responsibility” for the 1994 Rwanda genocide. For the Iraq misadventure former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also apologised for “the mistake in planning” what would happen after Saddam Hussein was removed.

That said Mr Obama’s decision to join France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron to invade Libya and topple its dictator Muammar Gaddafi is one of the many mistakes by the the US’ 44th President. His failure to give Iraq a truly representative government, his failure to tackle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his silence over Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s ‘dictatorship’ in Egypt, are some of Mr Obama’s mistakes in West Asia.

Read | Nurse and her son from Kerala killed in Libya shell attack

If one pans the focus towards the east, Mr Obama’s policies in Afghanistan have been a continuation of the agony started by Mr Bush. As far as India is concerned, Mr Obama’s worst mistake would be his inability to hold Pakistan accountable for its role in spreading terror.

To be fair to him, Mr Obama inherited some of the problems in West Asia. But for a Nobel laureate president who showed promise in his ‘New Beginning’ speech in Cairo in 2009 and who put his full weight behind the nuclear deal with Iran, West Asia today is not a safer place than when it was in 2008 when he took office.

Read | A Republican president will tear up Iran deal: US commentator Pipes

World leaders, especially US presidents forget that “...great responsibility follows inseparably from great power”. The next president will do well to keep this in mind. He/she must think of adopting a much more nuanced approach and shed the predilection for adopting a Wild West approach towards spreading democracy around the world. One way to further international peace and stability will be to respect and mediate through world bodies like the United Nations.

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