The following is a quote from the NY Times:
Characterizing Colonel Qaddafi as a menacing “creature” lacking a moral compass, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the international community had little choice but to act. “There is no good choice here. If you don’t get him out and if you don’t support the opposition and he stays in power, there’s no telling what he will do,” Mrs. Clinton said from Tunisia on Thursday.
She went on to say Qaddafi would do “terrible things” to Libya and its neighbors. “It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.” Her remarks, applauded by the studio audience where she appeared, amounted to the administration's most stridently personal attacks on the Libyan leader, echoing President Ronald Reagan’s “mad dog of the Middle East.”
It reminds me of how her husband contributed to the escalation in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and how he created a lasting polarization in the US between left and right.
Most people will prefer a more democratic Libya and may think that the cost of him restoring order in Libya is rather high. But Mrs Clinton takes this one step further and denies the humanity of Gaddafi. Consider the following points:
- the goal should be a democratic Libya, not a victory of the rebels.
- by denying that Gaddafi has a moral compass Clinton also robs herself of the opportunity to make an appeal to those elements of morality that Gaddafi still has left.
- Libya is no threat to Tunisia and Egypt and it has never been.
- Gaddafi also represents a tribal coalition. This makes it an ethnic conflict. And while Clinton may be capable of getting rid of Gaddafi this coalition will stay and may both cause and experience serious difficulties if it is not involved in the formulation of how the post-Gaddafi order will look like.
The article makes the comparison with Reagan. But in fact it is the contrast with Reagan that is standing out. With Reagan there was never a doubt about the humanity of the other. Reagan's best remembered words are "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". Note the politeness and how he doesn't put himself above Gorbachev. It was this attitude that opened the door to real negotiations. In contrast, if negotiations are ever started about Libya one can expect that Clinton will behave just like her husband did in Rambouillet in 1999: laying down an "nonnegotiable" agreement proposal.
Reagan wasn't shy of using violence if he thought it necessary and certainly wasn't more pacifist than the present US administration. But he didn't refrain from talking either. It looks like Clinton stops talking once violence becomes an issue. Certainly with someone like Gaddafi who is used to ignore the wishes of the international community occasional violence to make a point is necessary.