President Obama has come under criticism in this blog and elsewhere for his failure to move more swiftly to denounce Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi’s violence against his people and failing to take concrete actions to help the rebels.
It is now clear that there may be a good reason for Obama to move slowly. American citizens are stuck in the country, unable to flee because of bad weather on the Mediterranean. And they are at the mercy of the Libyan government. From a piece in today’s New York Times.
On Thursday, the administration failed again to evacuate diplomats and other American citizens from Libya. A ferry chartered by the United States government remained tied up at a pier in the capital, Tripoli, unable to sail to Malta because of heavy seas in the Mediterranean.
The 285 passengers are safe, according to the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, but they cannot leave the ship, which he said is guarded by Libyan security forces. A hotel across the street from the pier has been the site of gun battles between rebels and loyalists of Colonel Qaddafi, witnesses said.
Obama alluded to this issue during his remarks at the White House on Libya Wednesday.
First, we are doing everything we can to protect American citizens. That is my highest priority.
Now, given the administration’s disjointed response to Egypt and Obama’s sluggish response last year before supporting the protests in Iran, it’s not clear that he would have moved any faster if the Americans were out.
But criticism of his actions, from here and elsewhere, should be tempered until Americans are safe and we know whether this is why the president, commendably, may be holding back.
UPDATE: The ferry has now left Libya.