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Obama agenda: Libya in focus

President Obama is still working with allies to determine what role the other members of the coalition against Libya will play after the United States steps back from its leading role. He also had to call the emir of Qatar, the only Arab state to offer fighter jets to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, to nail down that leader’s support. “The tension and confusion laid bare the unwieldiness of the coalition -- which American officials conceded had been put together on the fly — even four days into the operation,” the New York Times writes.

Maureen Dowd: “They are called the Amazon Warriors, the Lady Hawks, the Valkyries, the Durgas. There is something positively mythological about a group of strong women swooping down to shake the president out of his delicate sensibilities and show him the way to war. And there is something positively predictable about guys in the White House pushing back against that story line for fear it makes the president look henpecked. … Whatever the reason, the spinners were so afraid that the president would seem to be a ditherer chased by Furies that they went so far as to argue that three of the women were not even in the room for The Decision. So the women were in their place? Where, the kitchen?”

The Times’ Thomas Friedman makes the distinction between Arab rebellions in “real countries” with strong national identities (like Egypt) and “tribes with flags,” or states with arbitrary boundaries in which various tribes and sects have found themselves living together (like Libya). “Libya is just the front-end of a series of moral and strategic dilemmas we are going to face as these Arab uprisings proceed through the tribes with flags…But we need to be more cautious. What made the Egyptian democracy movement so powerful was that they owned it. The Egyptian youth suffered hundreds of casualties in their fight for freedom. And we should be doubly cautious of intervening in places that could fall apart in our hands, a là Iraq, especially when we do not know, a là Libya, who the opposition groups really are — democracy movements led by tribes or tribes exploiting the language of democracy?”    

Ali Suleiman Aujali, who quit his job as ambassador to Libya when he broke with Col. Khaddafy in late February, has set up a diplomatic shop at his home, a suite in the Watergate, the New York Times writes. “‘I’m not representing the regime anymore -- I’m representing the people,’ Mr. Aujali declared, dandling his 15-month-old grandson on his knee… Mr. Aujali, who has served Libya for 40 years, is part of an extraordinary wave of sudden ex-diplomats who, depending on one’s point of view, are exhibiting uncommon courage or a savvy instinct for self-preservation.”

Washington Post: “The State Department announced Tuesday that it will give $20 million to Tunisia to help build its new democracy, boosting to more than $170 million the total in assistance for Arab countries that recently overthrew authoritarian leaders… The funds are from unspent money appropriated by Congress for other purposes, officials said. The money for Tunisia will be distributed through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a program begun by the George W. Bush administration that works with local nongovernmental groups to encourage democracy in the region.”

“Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday threatened government opponents with civil war and appealed to them to begin a national dialogue in conflicting statements that did not stop calls for his immediate resignation,” the Washington Post reports. 

“President Obama this year has threatened to veto nearly as many bills as he did in 2009 and 2010 combined,” The Hill writes. “Obama has issued six veto threats in 2011, four of them this month. Working with a Democratic House and Senate over the last couple of years, Obama issued eight during the entire 111th Congress.”