March 31, 2011
March 31, 2011
March 31, 2011
The United States has confronted the upheavals in the Middle East on a piecemeal basis. Each country’s problems have been considered in relative isolation and without serious consideration of the impact on events elsewhere. Is this wise?
First there was Tunisia. Washington, though shocked, applauded. In Egypt, the United States was all over the place—supportive of Hosni Mubarak and the protesters alternately and even simultaneously. When it was all over Americans of all stripes praised the President for steering the ship of American policy along dangerous shoals between stability and democracy. But in the region, the view was very different. The Israelis and Saudis still see President Obama as having betrayed a loyal ally, and many Egyptian protesters see the America as having failed to rally strongly and early enough to the opposition cause. On a recent trip, protest groups refused to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
After Mubarak fell, speculation was rampant about who would be next: Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain? No one predicted Libya. It looked at first as if the revolutionary tide was unstoppable. But when Gadhafi broke the new rules, and confronted the rebels with all the force at his disposal, a moment of truth emerged. Obama called for Gadhafi to leave office, and did nothing. The global news media were filled with debates about a no-fly zone: in the United States some, led by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, argued against becoming involved in another Mideast war. Others, such as Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain, urged immediate U.S. action. As the rebels moved toward Tripoli, capturing in the process 50 percent of the populace, Washington watched. When the Gadhafi regime counter-attacked with a full-scale war against its own people, Washington waited. Some argued for intervention on humanitarian grounds to save the tens of thousands who would be killed if Gadhafi advanced. Others demurred that for the United States, intervention was too perilous. No one talked about the implications on the behavior of other regimes and other protest movements.
But others in the region got the message: The United States opposed force against protesters, but it would do nothing. Soon the Saudis were moving to help the Bahraini government to crush the opposition there. The Yemeni leader, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, also seemed emboldened to move against protesters to shore up his embattled regime of 32 years. There was much talk of the threat of Iran in Bahrain and of Al Qaeda in Yemen. The democracy movement was beginning to look like a false dawn. And most important of all factors working for Gadhafi was Japan. The world’s attention turned to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Libya was fading fast in the world’s attention. Lucky Gadhafi, or so it seemed.
As Gadhafi’s forces and African mercenaries began to move back eastward across his country, outmanning the rebels at every stop, the dimensions of the emerging massacres the Libyan leader was inflicting on his people suddenly focused the attention of the international community. With the Islamic Conference, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and especially the Arab League slowly endorsing a no-fly zone, it seemed too late, especially because the Arab League had insisted on United Nations backing. These delaying tactics seemed to be communicating that no one liked Gadhafi, so even the Arab League would advocate stopping him, but by sending the issue to New York, it was clear that the international community would run out of time.
But for the United States, Arab League endorsement and impending mass deaths in Benghazi had an electrifying impact. At the last possible moment, Washington changed policies again, confirming American unpredictability. Now the United States was pushing a tough resolution at the UN and convincing the doubters to abstain, perhaps because the Chinese, Russians, Brazilians, Germans, and Indians thought not much could be done to alter the course of the war in favor of Gadhafi anyway. Why oppose the Arab League? Instead, the West’s ferocious response saved the Benghazi rebels and created the stalemate we currently face.
March 31, 2011
The Obama administration has come under fire for its slowness in responding to the Libyan crisis, its apparent unenthusiastic stance once it did get involved, and its desire to hand off the mission to Europeans as quickly as possible. The administration has also been criticized for failing to involve Congress in the decision-making leading up to the military operation and for its apparent failure to develop a clear road map for what to do next.
Most of these criticisms have a kernel of truth — indeed, although the mission has been effective in averting a humanitarian debacle so far, it has been ugly in some ways. But as Ivo Daalder, now the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and I argued about the Kosovo war a dozen years ago in our book, Winning Ugly: NATO’s War to Save Kosovo, an ugly operation is not the same as a failed operation. In fact, even a mission that starts off badly can turn around if policymakers start to give thought to the full range of outcomes that will be acceptable and what it will cost to achieve them. It is far too early to say for certain that Operation Odyssey Dawn will turn out as well as the 1999 war designed to stop Slobodan Milosevic’s violence against ethnic Albanians in what was then the Serbian province of Kosovo. Much can still go wrong, as it did in Kosovo. But on balance, this operation is off to a far better start than that one.
In the run-up to the Kosovo war, there was less disagreement among NATO members about getting involved, although Greece was more opposed to war then than Turkey is today. Still, given Russia’s opposition to using any force against its long-standing ally in Kosovo, NATO had to launch its operation without a UN Security Council resolution, which only complicated the mission at the end, when Russia unsuccessfully tried to compete with NATO for control over northern Kosovo in the postwar peacekeeping mission. And the war got off to a terrible start: rather than protecting ethnic Albanians, the initial campaign instead prompted Milosovic to intensify his pogrom against them, as he realized that the alliance had not planned a militarily effective operation. Indeed, NATO’s leaders had predicted that a few days of pinprick attacks would be enough to stop the Serbian thug, and they had failed to plan for any possible escalation if they were not. Tellingly, the United States had even redeployed its only aircraft carrier stationed in the Mediterranean just a few days before initiating hostilities; keeping to the Navy’s schedule for ship rotations apparently mattered more than keeping ready combat power in the region.
This time, the United States has been more careful. Both here and in Europe, military leaders have not promised that the mission would be a military cakewalk. In the U.S. debate, Daalder, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have all warned about the limited effectiveness of no-fly zones. Some have interpreted their statements as hedges against the possible failure of a military mission that they did not want to conduct, but the remarks should in fact be read as a combination of prudence and public education. Their statements have certainly been vindicated. The imposition of the no-fly zone has been a violent affair that has produced no quick victory despite already having gone well beyond standard procedure to include destroying much of the Libyan air force and attacking ground combat vehicles. It has so far provisionally achieved its core goal of protecting the rebels and civilians in pro-rebel areas. And although Libya’s Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi has certainly not backed down, he has not escalated his onslaught, as Milosevic did, nor has he even repeated his threats to show “no mercy” to insurgents. In both Kosovo and Libya, the United States has walked a strategic middle path between decisive force and passivity.
In both cases, the U.S. president ruled out any use of ground troops early on. That decision was likely ill-advised in Kosovo, especially when combined with the United States’ other signs of irresoluteness in the war’s early days, but it is probably correct in Libya, since airpower will be more potent in the country’s open terrain (and is already being used to greater effect). But even though they were reluctant to commit troops, both U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama felt the need to do something — Clinton because he regretted standing by early on as the conflict in Bosnia started and during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Obama largely because he is advised by several of the same people who experienced the Bosnia and Rwanda debacles firsthand.
Yet the impulse to do something, as Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, famously warned in the early 1990s, can be dangerous. Allied help, a balanced approach, and noble intentions do not necessarily add up to guaranteed victory. The Kosovo war would have been a debacle had it ended after the first month, as Milosevic drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. This scenario looked entirely possible until NATO dramatically intensified its operations and started to hint at a possible ground invasion. And the Libyan engagement, although effective so far in stemming Qaddafi’s onslaught, could still produce a stalemate that leaves him temporarily in power in Tripoli and its environs. Perhaps a worse outcome would be if the United States helped the rebels just enough to keep them fighting but not enough to resolve the conflict. Libya might become a bleeding ulcer that al Qaeda could try to exploit. In war, it is not enough merely to make a good effort; a good outcome is also a necessity…
March 31, 2011
It was worth a smile at breakfast that morning in February 2006, a scrap of social currency to take out into the world. Michael Porter, the Harvard Business School management guru, had grown famous offering competitive strategies to firms, regions, whole nations. Earlier he had taken on the problems of inner cities, health care and climate change. Now he was about to tackle perhaps the hardest problem of all (that is, after the United States’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq).
He had become adviser to Moammar Khadafy’s Libya.
There at the bottom of the front page of the Financial Times was a story that no one else had that day, or any other – a scoop. It turned out that Porter and his friend Daniel Yergin and the consulting firms which they had respectively co-founded and founded, Monitor Group and Cambridge Energy Research Associates, had been working for a year on a plan to diversify the Libyan economy away from its heavy dependence on oil. Their teams had conducted more than 2,000 interviews with “small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs as well as Libyan and foreign business leaders.” (Both men are better-known as celebrated authors: Porter for Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors and The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Yergin for The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power and The Commanding Heights: the Battle for the World Economy.)
The next day Porter would present the 200-page document they had prepared in a ceremony in Tripoli. Khadafy himself might attend. The FT had seen a copy of the report, which envisaged a glorious future under the consultants’ plan. If all went well, it said, then by 2019 – the 50th anniversary of the military coup that brought Col. Khadafy to power – Libya would have “one of the fastest rates of business formation in the world,” making it a regional leader contributing to the “wealth and stability of surrounding nations.”
From Cairo, the FT’s William Wallis reported:
The Harvard project is part of the efforts of Saif al-Islam, the colonel’s son, to restore Libya’s international legitimacy after his father’s renunciation of weapons of mass destruction and Tripoli’s agreement to pay compensation to the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie aircraft bombing.
A year later, in February 2007, BusinessWeek trumpeted the relationship, first on the eve of another Porter lecture on the “New Dawn” in Tripoli, then again a month later. The Cambridge, Mass., firm that Porter had started fifteen years before with seven other HBS professors had become. BW reported, “deeply engaged in overhauling the Mediterranean petro-state.” It wasn’t clear, the magazine noted, that partial bank privatization and “mini-MBAs” for some 250 emerging leaders would prevail over statism and red tape.
We now know that Khadafy’s son bribed his way into his PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE); that Monitor Group had been paid to help him write his dissertation there (much of which apparently turns out to have been plagiarized, anyway); that the Libyan government was paying Monitor $250,000 a month for its services; that, according to The New York Times, Libya’s sovereign wealth fund today owns a portion of Pearson PLC, the conglomerate that publishes the Financial Times and The Economist; that the whole deal quietly fell apart two years later.
Sir Howard Davies resigned earlier this month as director of the LSE after it was disclosed he had accepted a ₤1.5 million donation in 2009 from a charity controlled by Saif Khadafy.
It turns out that Monitor also proposed to write a book boosting Khadafy as “one of the most recognizable individuals on the planet,” promised to generate positive press, and to bring still more prominent academics, policymakers and journalists to Libya, according to Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe. She did a banner job of pursuing the details she found in A Proposal For Expanding the Dialogue Surrounding the Ideas of Moammar Khadafy, a proposal from Mark Fuller in 2007 that a Libyan opposition group posted on the Web.
Among those enlisted were Sir Anthony Giddens, former director of the LSE; Francis Fukuyama, then of Johns Hopkins University; Benjamin Barber, of Rutgers University (emeritus); Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT’s Media Lab; Robert Putnam and Joseph Nye, both former deans of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Nye received a fee and wrote a broadly sympathetic account of his three-hour visit with Khadafy for The New Republic. He also told the Globe’s Stockman he had commented on a chapter of Saif’s doctoral dissertation. (When The New Republic scolded Nye earlier this month, after Mother Jones magazine disclosed the fee, Nye replied that his original manuscript implied that he had been employed as a consultant by Monitor, but that the phrase had been edited out).
Connoisseurs of the consultant’s art will relish Monitor’s 2007 proposal, with its elaborate plan to write and sell a book about Khadafy as a world-historical figure to a major publisher, and its hints of prospective visits from Cass Sunstein, future constitutional adviser to President Barack Obama (“positive preliminary conversation”) and Nelson Mandela. No memo dated before Porter’s February 2006 appearance in Tripoli has surfaced yet. An earlier letter of understanding, dated May 2006, stated that “Monitor is not a lobbying organization.”
But the lobbying law may be involved, as noted earlier this month by Paul Blumenthal, of the Sunlight Foundation.. Last week Monitor acknowledged it may have a problem with the Foreign Agents Registration Act and hired an outside counsel to advise its internal investigation. Chances are we’ll hear more about this.
Curiously enough, Porter’s name didn’t appear in the Boston Globe account until the twelfth paragraph under the headline “Local Consultants Aided Khadafy/Cambridge firm tried to polish his image”, well below the continuation of the article on an inside page. Stockman’s account of Porter’s explanation is worth quoting in full.
Monitor’s work in Libya began when Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor who is among the country’s top theorists on management strategies, received a call from Saif Khadafy around 2001, according to Porter. Saif, a western-leaning doctoral student who US officials hoped would become the next leader of Libya, asked for his expertise to help change Libya’s battered, Soviet-style economy.
Porter met Saif and several Libyan ministers in London but said he could not help until Libya resolved the issues that had earned it international condemnation, including the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The terrorist attack killed all 259 passengers and crew and 11 villagers.
“I remember telling Saif, ‘We can’t do anything until you settle your dispute with the rest of the world,’” Porter recalled in a recent interview.
In the next few years Libya offered compensation to the Lockerbie victims and gave up its nuclear weapons program, putting it on a path of normalize relations with the United States.
So in 2005, Porter agreed to be a senior adviser on a program, to lay out a blueprint for reforms.
He told the Globe’s Stockman he ended his personal involvement in later 2007, after he realized “that the reforms were going nowhere when a person who opposed them was appointed head of the group charged with implementing them.”
Why did a couple of guys as smart at Porter and Yergin become involved in such a mug’s game? It is always possible that Porter thought really thought Saif Khadafy was full of promise as a democratic reformer when they met. (Today Saif is back in Tripoli, vowing to fight “to the last bullet.”) It is possible that Porter thought the Bush administration would welcome the access to Libyan business that he and Yergin gained through their project. Nicholas Negroponte’s brother John was, after all, Director of National Intelligence from 2005-07.
It’s true, too, that Harvard University was in no way institutionally involved. After its mission to advise the Russian government on behalf of the US State department collapsed in 1997 amid a welter of conflict of interest charges, Harvard closed its Institute for International Development. After losing a long court battle, and partly as a consequence of it, the university relieved Lawrence Summers of his presidency (but made him a university professor) and revoked economics professor Andrei Shleifer’s endowed chair…