Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libya: Part Three - A Conclusion

Barack Obama has already been hit in conservative circles (rightly so) for taking a doctrinaire approach to Libya. But I’m not so sure we have a handle on Obama’s doctrine, outside of the baseball analogies he put forth on the campaign trail. How does he modify his approach when, say, the Arab League (and, soon, most of Europe) refuses to play ball?

Worse, he has announced that he has no intention of taking out Gaddafi. Does it make sense to antagonize a leader, one who has already engineered terrorist attacks against Americans, and then leave him in power? What is Obama’s response when Gaddafi responds.

We have no idea. The reason wasn’t on his TelePrompter last night. We cannot test Obama’s claims (I’ll simply assume none of my readers take the humanitarian explanation at face value) against our sense of reality. He has not made claims.

By my lights, this contrasts one of the great strengths of the Bush presidency. He made a case for war, committed to certain deliverables, and sought to achieve them, well beyond the point at which they had ceased to be popular. If his evidence for the existence of WMDs was cherry-picked, our congress had complete access to that information.

Barack Obama is reticent to even use the word war. Tactically, or by accident, he has shirked accountability at home as he has acquiesced to fickle allies abroad.

And therein lies my functional opposition to the war in Libya. If the president has not made his case for war, then he cannot be held accountable to any sort of success model. By declaring a national emergency (?) and moving forward without the consent of congress (or even a real address), Obama has given himself carte blanche for any and all military engagement.

You can make the constitutional case that the president has this power. I just don’t want this president to use it.

To date, the proof is in the pudding. The president’s much-touted alliance is weaker and narrower than that of the Iraq war. Rhetoric aside, we are fronting the weapons, money and personnel to achieve what is, ostensibly, a NATO initiative (or a UN initiative… take your pick).

It may provide some comfort to members of the elite (many of whom have made European friends travelling around the world) that France and Britain are offering their rhetorical support. The rest of us shouldn’t give a damn. Gaddafi doesn’t.

To date, we have seen no tangible benefit from the Obama doctrine, and we will not. The word feckless gets thrown around a lot, but Obama’s initiatives are all marked by a similar pattern.

-The application of broad doctrine to a profoundly complex issue

-Inevitable opposition

-Incoherent, but nonetheless aggressive, response to same

-Misapplication of aforementioned doctrine (see: Care, Obama)

Let’s face it. If he were going to delineate a clear strategy for engagement, he would have done so by now. What he has are a couple of theories that he would like to think will improve our global standing for foreign policy endeavors in the future.

From what I can ascertain, Libya (like most specific policy issues) doesn’t interest Barack Obama very much. He is looking for an opportunity to apply his ideology, the way a scientist is eager to test a hypothesis.

Unfortunately, the testing of this hypothesis necessitates missile strikes. Remember Colin Powell’s oft-repeated aphorism about bulls and china shops? Obama has let the bulls out of the pen, and the consequences will require further intervention.

At this stage, short of a miracle, Obama has essentially committed ground troops to Libya. The resistance is emboldened, and now assumes it has the support of the international community (i.e. the United States). Alas, they do not have the resources to sustain a ground assault.

We’ll have to intervene. That means troops on the ground. That means navigating a complex network of a affiliations (many of them terrorist affiliations) through a process of trial and error (with the error coming in the form of fatalities).

The alternative is to sweep it under the rug, and hope everyone at home forgets about it as Libyans die en masse. Barack Obama is very few things. Cynical isn’t one of them.

And what if, God forbid, Gaddafi launches a terrorist attack? I doubt Americans will be mollified by the fact that Obama has found favor with the Belgians.

Foreign policy as hypothesis is a dangerous game. What looks good in a student newspaper doesn’t necessarily work in real life. A war in Libya requires a leader. When we elect one, I will support it.


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