Obama Now Owns the Libya Conflict

04/22/2011 12:29 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2011
  • Steve Clemons Washington Editor at Large of The Atlantic and founder and senior fellow of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation.

President Obama's recently co-written op-ed, done with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, asserted Transatlantic concerns about affairs in Libya -- and intentionally or not, proclaimed ownership of the conflict. Whether the Libya intervention succeeds or fails, the achievement will be because of the efficacy or impotence of the West more than a narrative of a well-organized, inspiring opposition throwing off an unjust regime.

This is not good. The U.S. now has adopted a third nation -- after Iraq and Afghanistan -- in which the footprint of its military involvement is very large, and while there has been good diplomatic outreach to members of the African Union and Arab League, they are now invisible in this conflict in their own neighborhood.

It needs to be a high priority of NATO, the White House team working on this, the Pentagon and Hillary Clinton, as well as Susan Rice, to be seen connecting more with Arab and African leaders, and Arab and African people, about this conflict.

Two immediate suggestions.

Next Tuesday, UAE's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will be visiting President Obama in the White House.

Rather than penning op-eds about the vital need for a new start for Libyans with a new leader written by heads of governments whose colonial pasts still anger many in Africa and the Middle East, perhaps President Obama should get a bit more creative and pen a joint op-ed with Crown Prince Mohammed. This punctures the notion that the intervention and its design is only Western. An op-ed written by various regional stakeholders and President Obama would be a good step forward -- and would simultaneously create an opportunity to emphasize the power and importance of a free press in this area of the world.

Secondly, it's more than overdue for President Obama to go on Al Jazeera. It's practically an absurd embarrassment at this point that everyone has been relying on Al Jazeera's excellent, widespread coverage and analysis of the Arab revolutions and yet the U.S. president continues a soft boycott of the network.

To connect with the Arab world and to connect with those protesters around the region, speaking through Al Jazeera to them would be an important step forward.

-Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons