Monday, March 28, 2011

On Libya: Part Two - What's our motivation?

How I view the war in Libya is less important than how the president views it, and not simply for the reason that I am a blogger and he is a president. I may agree with his initiatives to date, but not his aims. As the latter will guide the former henceforth, it’s important to ascertain what Barack Obama thinks we should achieve, and how he thinks we should achieve it.

This, really, is the crux of any argument re: war. Whether or not you support the Iraq war hinges on why you suppose George W. Bush engaged it.

Had we found troves of powerful weapons at Saddam’s disposal, only the most fervent ideologue could resist the clarity of the mission. But he didn’t, and so in absence of clarity, we look to vision. Did George W. Bush have reason to believe Saddam had WMDs? Was this his essential motivation for war?

Conveniently (and unfortunately), the answer to that question just so happens to split along partisan lines. Fancy that.

What does Barack Obama want to accomplish? As it pertains to Libya qua Libya, I don’t have the foggiest idea. I’m not sure anyone does.

I know what he doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t want to kill Gaddafi. To do so will take a concerted effort, a months/years long campaign that will leave a tattered nation in tatters accompanied by our bite marks. Sound familiar?

I’m reasonably certain he doesn’t want to start a ground war of any sort, (though I think this ship has sailed, as I’ll explain later). Politically, this will be a tough sell, especially insofar as the administration is allergic to the term “war”. Ground strikes, with the bullets and IEDs, look a bit too much like war movies. The optics cannot be spun.

I am certain that his concerns over genocide are sincere, as were those of Bush in Iraq. But preventing genocide can only mute the moral concerns with respect to war. It cannot assuage them. We cannot prevent every instance of genocide, and Barack Obama knows this.

Nor, necessarily, is the goal to arm and assist the resistance. This reticence, while possibly wise, as we famously do not understand the nature of the resistance, calls into question the purpose of declaring war. Our presence in Libya (viz. missiles) invariably assists the resistance. How could it not?

I’m fine with the tension. Any nation where radical Islam has taken hold will not produce an ethically pure resistance. However, the old adage about things not possibly being any worse applies when the existing leadership has repeatedly declared war on our country and murdered United States citizens.

But that’s me talking. It is, to put it mildly, unsafe to assume that the White House’s assessments hue to my own proclivities.

And yes, I have my suspicions.

I have long thought that Hillary Clinton needed a foreign policy lens through which to define her 2012 candidacy. If leaked reports of internal dissent are to be believed, this would be that. The timing of here announcement that she will be stepping down as SOS is intriguing. Has Obama simply talked himself into the efficacy of a mission that will deprive Hillary of her bludgeon?

Of course, there is the usual cloud of Wag The Dog cynicism that permeates any military endeavor. Are internals showing that Obama is seen as weak? Has Obama struck some sort of back room deal? Is there an affair (or worse) that must be kept out of the headlines?

Perhaps Obama is, as so many leaders before him have been, eager to own a foreign policy issue. To date, he has been beholden to the machinations of his predecessor’s military efforts. This is his chance to execute foreign policy his way. To this end, the administration has made quite the show of support of Britain and France, as well as the (snicker) Arab League.

The latter motivation seems most plausible, and would explain the ad hoc nature of our engagement. Barack Obama has touted international diplomacy as a means of advancing democracy. This is a chance to do it his way (with much deference to the UN), and Libya as a cornerstone of his ideological approach to war.

So what about that approach? This is getting long, so there’s a part three.


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