The Libyan Muddle

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Obama instead chose to focus on quixotic themes like democracy and the “aspirations of the Libyan people.” But on this issue as in so many others in the Libyan war, the devil is in the details. It would be heartening to think that Qaddafi’s opponents are Western-style democrats-in-waiting, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, a Libyan rebel leader, recently revealed that the ranks of the rebels include jihadists who fought American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is consistent with the findings of American military researchers that Libyans, many with ties to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIGF) that has roots in the breakaway parts of eastern Libya, made up the second-largest cohort of foreign fighters in Iraq, after Saudi Arabia. The military’s West Point academy reports that while the LIFG is not officially affiliated with al-Qaeda, the two organizations share an “increasingly co-operative relationship.” Is it the “aspirations” of such allies that the U.S. is in Libya to defend?

A notable allergy to specifics aside, the address symbolized the president’s deep ambivalence about the use of American military power. In a version of Wilsonianism on steroids, he sought to cast the war as an idealistic intervention based on deep moral principle, at one point suggesting that the United States was fighting to give Libyans “freedom from fear.” (It is apparently not enough for the United States to make the world safe for democracy. We must make it safe from fear, as well.) Elsewhere in his remarks, the president invoked cold considerations of “national interest” related to an immigration crisis from the war and a spillover of regional instability to Egypt and Tunisia. Which was the real reason for America’s involvement? The president himself didn’t seem sure.

One point, at least, the president was clear: Libya was a multilateral war. Almost apologetically, he stressed that “the United States has not acted alone. Instead, we have been joined by a strong and growing coalition.” But this emphasis was a mistake. That is not only because the so-called international community backing the war has already collapsed, with the Arab League now airing doubts about the conflict and European powers like Germany refusing to take part at all, but because this multilateralism was overhyped to begin with. As Foreign Policy points out, the war’s coalition is “smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.” The supposedly unilateral 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Obama again criticized last night, was backed by 40 countries, while only 15 have backed the Libyan mission.

More important, the fig leaf of multilateralism cannot disguise a muddled military policy. Lacking a clear sense of purpose and military intent, the president repeatedly has tried to justify the conduct of the war rather than its outcome. But it’s the latter that most matters to the American public. And if the president’s speech last night is the most clarity that the country will receive about the war underway in Libya, it won’t be long before it joins his defense secretary in judging it far from a vital national interest.

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  • BS77

    Where are the people we "saved"??? ON the news, You don't see anyone, elderly, women and children…the refugees from this blast of destruction. Are we really saving anyone?

  • Chezwick_Mac

    What of the humanitarian consequences if our half-baked intervention succeeds only in prolonging the civil war? The road to hell is so often paved with good intentions.

    What of the strategic consequences if our efforts result in an Al Qaeda bridgehead in north Africa? Will our intervention on behalf of the "Libyan people" then morph into a war on the very same?

    Unlike domestic policy, where opposition to a President's agenda can and often should be expressed vociferously and implacably, conservatives have a sensibility regarding the need to present a united front to the outside world (a sensibility that liberals abandoned long ago). One wants to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Yet, one can't help but feel that this President is a consummate amateur, oblivious to the art of geo-politics and the science of strategic planning…not to mention his inability to foresee the long-term repercussions of today's impulses (the astronomical deficits he's wracking up is ample proof of this).

    I'm suddenly whimsical for the over-cautious Obama…the one who is unable to make a decision. There is indeed some wisdom in the old adage: 'when in doubt, punt.'

    And should a fundamentalist regime emerg from the ashes of this conflict – as seems likely…the prez will in all probability just shrug his shoulders and say "the will of the people have spoken." If only he could just acknowledge the same about the voters of Wisconsin.

    • Jim_C

      Yeah, I think the "mission creep" has already begun.

      Let's hope not.

  • poptoy1949

    The only reason we are in Libya is because Obama wants us in Libya. do we belong there? Not in my opinion.

  • claspur

    A caller just called into Tom &Todd ("WRKO am" Boston) and said we need to take-up the 'Endless War' protests that the Left conducted against Bush at Starbucks, at Arlington every week. (got a chuckle from thatn' :o)

  • geez

    Obama loves the fact he can use this war to further the US decline of leadership in the world. The fact that he answers to nato doesn't bother him in the least, quite the opposite, it makes him feel safe and smarter because he has a scapegoat when things go bad. He can point to nato the same way he points to Bush for his failed thinking and policy. Piece by piece he's selling us out to the one world government . This is the same kind of leadership that watched Hitler murder millions of Jews because choices were too hard and they didn't have the character and conviction to do what was right. Real leaders don't enjoy and revel in the position of being told what, when and how to use their military and how to conduct their country's affairs, but that is what this pretender and thief is most comfortable doing. He's a community organizer, a junior senator, a college professor who's hiding as much of his past as can be humanly possible. If it weren't for teleprompters he would collapse before your eyes like an empty suit. The US is critically dehydrated and thirsts for a George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, but instead settles for a diet coke. 2012 will be different.

  • geez

    Let me be clear, no more progressives in 2012.

    • conservative4ever

      Amen to that.

  • tagalog

    If we don't have troops on the ground, how is this coalition saving lives? God forbid we should have troops on the ground, at least U.S. troops, but how does Obama's claim that our involvement is a saving of lives achieve credibility without soldiers patrolling on the streets?

    And if the reason for our involvement is to save people from being brutalized and oppressed, then the Iraq war is OK, right?

    I didn't think I'd say this out loud, but I will vote for Newt Gingrich despite my strong misgivings about his character if he runs for President in 2012. I think he is the most clear-speaking politician of the entire right-wing span of potential candidates.

  • Speedy

    Obama treats the military like a bottomless resource that he can call up at his whim for whatever cause du jour attracts him and his multilateralist accomplices. Western Europe and the Arabs are the most concerned about Libya and they have sufficient resources to stop Ghaddafi, if they choose. We have no pressing national interest. While there are humanitarian issues, no country can afford to commit its resources on that basis since there is an endless list of murderous regimes that could legitimately be targeted.

    The US has babysat Europe for almost 70 years and we have earned little respect and much vilification for our efforts. It's time we focused on US interests and let a prosperous Europe and wealthy Arab states tend to their own problems. We have strategic relationships and interests that we can and should defend and we need to emphasize those.

    • Jim_C

      Pardon me while I laugh my keyster off at your precious little post.

      We have spent eight years, countless billions, and sacrificed thousands of lives "nation-building" a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks–and now you're concerned about OBAMA using the military as a bottomless resource? bwahahaha! That is rich.

      Where were you in 2003?

      My guess: you were treating the military as a bottomless resource as a bottomless resource for your "accomplices."

      • tagalog

        There's a kind of approach to a mature life that says "Pick your battles."

        The Libya battle isn't even our battle. The Iraq battle was, and is. Saddam Hussein was an attempted assassin of Bush 41. He endangered our interests by invading Kuwait. That's in addition to thumbing his nose at U.N. oversight of his weapons program and murdering the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. None of those considerations exists in Libya, with the possible exception of the Lockerbie murders. However, on that we might have taken action somewhat closer to the event.

        One might say that the U.S. has a national security stake in insuring that people don't get murdered by their leaders, but that would compel approval of the Iraq fight. Do you want to do that? I'd rather pick our country's battles. And if the consideration is tyrants oppressing their people, how's about us going into Syria, Rwanda, Darfur, and a bunch of other places where people are taking a beating from various evil folks? Do you think we should have taken action against Russia for their treatment of the Chechen rebels?

        • Jim_C

          I think you make a lot of sense, tagalog. My only problem is you engage in a massive amount of rationalization in order to justify, thinly, the eight year investment of blood and treasure in Iraq. We are not about to nation build in Libya. It's the scope of the former that makes all the difference.

          And it's NOT that I don't think the world is a better place with Saddam gone. I don't deny the justifications–after all the Clintons and Gore were saying the same things–EXCEPT that the mission always was, and is, nebulous, and not an efficient use of our military. Now we are stuck trying to prevent the very power vaccuum you are worried about. I'm not about to let conservatives off the hook simply because they don't like the democrat in charge.

      • zsqpwxxeh

        Jim, you forgot to say Halliburton & Cheney & Bush Lied=People Died. If you're going to regurgitate old liberal talking points, please do it right.

        Invading Iraq was a decision reached after due deliberation and with full Congressional concurrence, not to mention UNSC resolutions too numerous to mention. Saddam was actively engaged in obtaining nuclear weapons and was supporting our enemies (i.e., the jihadists–you know, those guys we cannot name). He killed many, many more Iraqis than Daffy, who was facing a massive armed rebellion.

        A Tomahawk in Q's bedroom a month ago would have saved countless lives. Now we are intervening in a civil war on the side of rebels likely to form a jihadist government if and when they get to Tripoli. We are knowingly violating the terms of the UNSC resolution, which only provides for enforcement of a no-fly zone and not for acting as the Ikhwan Air Force.

        I laugh at your impudence and your ignorance, sir.

        • Jim_C

          Well, what about a tomahawk in Saddam's bedroom? Would that have maybe saved us 8 years of…um…what are we doing there, again, exactly?

          I'm no conspiracist. I get why we went into Iraq. But what is abundantly clear is that you guys really don't mind the policy–you just don't like Obama.

          • zsqpwxxeh

            Wrong again. We don't like Obama AND we don't like the policy. Try to stop comparing Libya with Iraq for a moment and focus on the real issue here: our policy is now to intervene with airpower if a government brutally represses its people, but not in…Iran, Syria, Sudan, Burma, North Korea, etc. etc.

            Evidently you and the President were absent that day in school when a certain doctrine was covered: that a great power intervenes when its vital national interests are at stake.

          • Jim_C

            You're right; I missed the part about Iraq and our vital national interests.

            Mind you I did hear the tear jerkers about what Saddam did to his own people. And certainly I heard the (now-discredited) reports of WMDs. I heard our former Vice-President, many times, making spurious connections between 9/11 and Saddam. Funny, since you mention it–he did seem to leave out the part about the strategic importance of Iraq's location. But you see, I was told it wasn't about oil.

      • Speedy

        Hold the contempt and argue the issue and the policy. You seem expert at insult and and you have a penchant for attributing beliefs without evidence.

        • Jim_C

          You're right Speedy: I reacted to your first paragraph. I agree with the second.

  • Dan

    In his speech, what perked my thinking the most was that we're doing the Libyan intervention because of America's "interests and values". Values? But just what does Commandante Zero and his minions seem to value? The only peculiar value I see in this thing is, like redistribution of wealth, redistribution of American military power. As commercial businesses are criticized for getting too rich, so our military cannot be similarly allowed to, er uh, have clear and decisive wins. Can't let either business or our military get too cocky don't ya know!

    • Jim_C

      But Dan, you should love the military not having clear and decisive wins–no doubt you voted for it at least twice over the years! Or is it just that you melt when you hear that John Wayne rhetoric squeezed over the top of a vaguely defined, ill-planned mission?

      After getting all their tax breaks, their bailouts, and regulations that crowd out smaller competitors, corporations are having banner years. No jobs though…huh!! I thought profits = jobs? Top percentile is exponentially wealthier over last few decades, middle class has stagnated.

      Wake up, Danny Boy. The pipes are callin'!

    • tagalog

      Isn't this pretty clearly aggression grounded in concern about the price of oil?

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  • ApolloSpeaks


    Last year Joe Biden on Larry King took credit on behalf of the administration for stablizing Iraq and moving it toward a representative government. But last night in his speech on Libya Obama exceeded Biden's lies by actually taking credit for regime change in Iraq.

    Click my name and read my piece: Barack Obama's Claim Game, or Taking Credit for Regime Change in Iraq.

  • Monty Lasovsky

    The current president of the USA is probably the most articulate man in government today. That's how he got into power in the first place-mesmerizing the voters.
    This is fine at Harvard Law School or in a debating class, but won't help solve the worlds problems. The sooner this presidents term is over the better, provided we don't get worse! His articulate ability is getting him off the hook. He says a lot and on analysis of what he has said nobody is any the wiser. Perhaps not even the President himself.
    The President has managed to even confuse his own military. What are the President's intentions when it comes to Gadaffi? He must go-thats fine. Where to? Nobody knows. Perhaps to the USA seeking refugee status?
    Has not Gadaffi been declared a war criminal by the ICC? If not why not? That would solve the problem of where Gadaffi must go-where all the other world human rights criminals must end up-at the International Court at the Hague. Is the President avoiding this fate for Gaddafi? Should not a warrant of arrest have been issued for the apprehension of Gadaffi? The USA is not yet a signatory to the ICC but some other member country should be approached to have Gadaffi arrested.
    What body in Libya must replace Gaddafi is the world's number one problem right now. This applies to the whole problem of the middle east at present. When the dictators are gone, hopefully to the Hague, what replaces them? Islam and the brotherhood and Sharia law? Regrettably, there are darker days ahead that the world must prepare for.

  • William_Z

    The MSM kept saying over and over again now, Kaddafi wasn’t going to last. Well, he’s lasting, even as the ‘allies’ bomb his forces. He’s still holding the ‘rebels’ off. He’s snug in Tripoli somewhere.

    The problem with dealing with Libya now, a month after the bullets started flying, is the simple fact that a popular uprising has turned into a civil war. And the Obama Administration picked a side we still know little about and what we do know isn’t good.

    People can complain about Bush, but he went to Congress and the Iraq war was authorized by both houses. Saying Obama’s ‘kinetic military action’ is unconstitutional is reasonable, both Biden and he thought that before stepping into the WH.

  • patriotwork

    Barack Obama doesn't a war is like Bill Clinton didn't have sex. I didn't have a war with that country–Libia.

  • cookie

    be honest the guy is a total failure , he doesn't have a clue , and he is actually USELESS..

  • sodizzy

    This is very clever. Anyone who disagrees can now be portrayed as unfriendly to humanitarian values. If we oppose Obama's war to save the people, we are seen as unfeeling. Same old tiresome methods being used against us. I want to scream!

  • 1776redux

    Obama lied. People died.

  • morristhewise

    Attractive women in Tripoli or Benghazi have the most to lose if their cities are overwhelmed by battle weary conquerors.  Homely women are seen as worthless and spared the indignity of rape, but they are often executed.  An immediate ceasefire must be declared before the victorious army gets its reward.