Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

March 29, 2011

A COMPELLING CASE FOR A JUST MISSION.... If the point of President Obama's speech last night on U.S. intervention in Libya was to answer the "Why Libya?" and "Why now?" questions, it was a great success. Indeed, as a relative skeptic of this mission, the remarks exceeded my expectations.

These two paragraphs, in particular, drove home what we're doing and why.

"It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. In this particular country -- Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

"To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and -- more profoundly -- our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

In terms of making the case for a humanitarian-based mission, this is pretty compelling. In fact, the president repeatedly emphasized what makes this mission just and morally necessary.

It became easy to imagine Obama, listening to his team a few weeks ago, and being told that he could prevent the massacres of thousands by assembling a coalition, with limited risks to United States, earning international imprimatur, and launching a short-term mission.

This isn't about taking oil reserves or no-bid contracts for the administration's buddies; this is about Obama's desire to avoid images of mass graves, knowing he could have prevented it.

What's more, I was also struck by the president taking a moment to boast about just how effective U.S. officials have been of late.

"[I]n just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians. It took us 31 days.

"Moreover, we have accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations. I said that America's role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge."

Well, sure, when you put it that way, the administration's work has been pretty impressive.

Like a lot of high-profile Obama speeches, this one seemed geared towards anticipating and answering questions. Why didn't we go on the offensive sooner? Because we needed time to assemble a strong international coalition. Why isn't regime change part of the mission? Because it would shatter the coalition and exceed the legitimacy of our mandate. Why not wait for sanctions and diplomatic pressure before using force? Because Gadhafi was poised to commit horrible atrocities, and create a refugee crisis for neighboring countries like Egypt, if the coalition hadn't acted precisely when it did. Why isn't the U.S. "taking the lead" in the larger mission? Because "real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all."

And yet, as persuasive as I found all of this, and as earnest and strong as I perceived Obama to be last night, I still can't say with any confidence what the end game of this mission is. I still don't know what happens if rebels and Gadhafi forces fight to a standoff. I'm still not sure what kind of responsibilities the West will have to keep Libya together if the regime falls.

A transfer of responsibility will shift from the United States to NATO tomorrow, but no one can say with any certainty when U.S. forces can extricate themselves altogether, or even what kind of conditions would make that possible.

As a matter of conscience, the president's case stood on a strong foundation. But that doesn't negate lingering questions that may not have answers anytime soon.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

This isn't a speech that is going to change minds.

Posted by: JEA on March 29, 2011 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Well, I'm still reluctant about what we're doing.

But the President made a compelling case.

And what is impressive is how quickly everything came together, as compared to Bosnia. But, then, Bosnia had no oil.

Perhaps if we'd spent that last 60 years on the side of the people around the world, instead of putting in our own flunkies as leaders to maintain our corporate interests, we, and the world would be a much better place than it currently is.

So, OK, lets finish this and get the Hell out!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 29, 2011 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

And the question Kucinich raised remains unanswered: If Obama had time to garner internatiopnal support, why did he not get the domestic support by getting congressional approval as required by the Constitution?

Posted by: candideinnc on March 29, 2011 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

It is quite interesting to see a pro-war post here.
How much this is going to cost? Were we under eminent threat by Lybia? How many civilians are going to be killed by these bombs?
These are the questions that used to be asked here. The worm has turned.

Posted by: Orwell on March 29, 2011 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

Well, Steve, that's the world works; no one can predict at this juncture just what will or will not occur, reactions, and unforseen developments. Bloggers, commentators and others want definite answers. Can we predict the weather in Washington D.C., two months from today? No, because the atmosphere has an infinite number of combinations of factors that are ambiguous as far as long range predictions. One can prepare for a variety of situations, but one cannot be sure as to how it will work out. As the CIA operations officer says at the ending of Charlie Wilson's War, "We'll see."

Posted by: philat on March 29, 2011 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

You can't tell what the future brings, the end game? Get over it. That is what real life is like. Why are liberals constantly expecting magical powers from Democratic presidents, and whining when they don't get them?

Posted by: Theda Skocpol on March 29, 2011 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

To paraphrase Trent Lott, If Reagan had acted swiftly after the Lockerby bombing, we wouldn't be having these troubles today.

A half hearted missile launch at Gadhafi's tent was not enough; what was needed was an assassination- overt or covert- that made Gadhafi a footnote in history.

But evidently Reagan did not have the stomach for such action. See Lebanon/US Marines for evidence.

Posted by: DAY on March 29, 2011 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were on Meet The Press last Sunday. SoS Clinton had this to say about criticism from congress:

---------------
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s perfectly legitimate for members of Congress and the public to ask questions. The President is going to address the nation Monday night. A lot of these questions will be answered. But I would just make a couple of points.

First, on March 1st, the United States Senate passed a resolution calling for a no-fly zone. That was a bipartisan resolution. There were a number of people in the House, including leadership in both the Republican and Democratic parties, who were demanding that action be taken. The international community came together, and in an unprecedented action, the Arab League called on the Security Council to do exactly what the Security Council ended up doing.
--------------

http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/03/159209.htm

Posted by: Ladyhawke on March 29, 2011 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Orwell: How many civilians are going to be killed by these bombs?

It's a reasonable question, but then you might also ponder how many civilains would have been killed if Gadhafi had been allowed to proceed unimpeded with the world standing by watching and hand ringing about how terrible it was.

Posted by: sparrow on March 29, 2011 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

"getting Congressional approval"

Ah yes, Congress, where the left and the right walk hand in hand, agree to disagree, and pass major legislation, especially job creation, almost, every single day. Why the poor right hand of President Obama is growing weary from signing all of the legislation which passes over his desk, each and every day.

"Oh, you need Congressional approval, Mr President? Don't call us, we'll call you"

Asking for Congressional approval is, simply, a way for the McGovernites of the party to stop the firing of any weapon in our arsenal.

That said, Libya is, now, our Pottery Barn.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 29, 2011 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

I too am bothered by the apparent lack of an end game, but I also wonder if post-Bush we aren't getting too hung up on "end game" and "exit strategy."

The minute you launch military action, you cede some level of control over how the situation will evolve. So on some level, expecting an exit strategy or end game at the outset is unrealistic.

What we can expect is a clearly stated goal, and that we haven't heard. Personally, I think Obama's goal is to oust Qaddafi, but for pragmatic and strategic reasons he doesn't feel it's time to come out and say it. He dropped a fairly strong hint last night when he moved beyond protecting Libyan citizens and mentioned supporting the rebels.

Posted by: beep52 on March 29, 2011 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kucinich raised a valid point. However, for Obama to have to deal with the present Republican congress would have taken much longer to get approval (if at all).

How many more Libyan people would Gadaffi murder, how much more oppression would he have done and how much more money would he have stolen from that country while congress "dithered"? How bad would the situation have to get in Libya before the Republicans stopped pissing and moaning?

Posted by: wbn on March 29, 2011 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

Sad, but a thinking man's president seems to be in the minority when it comes to our professional talking heads.

Damn, I'm sticking with what I heard from our POTUS! He seems focused, dedicated to using military force smartly, and seemingly not willing to do anything other than what is in the best interests of our beloved nation!

All others who have opinions are entitled to them, yet they should try to stay away from willful folly and stick to what is actually observational in the way of real time events and official policy! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 29, 2011 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

This morning when I woke up - the predictable CNN
had McCain on to whine about Obama's speech!
I should keep watching Free Speech TV, it is about the only place now to get un biased info!

Posted by: j on March 29, 2011 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

The Constitution be damned. We have things we want done for everyone's good.

There used to be a concept of a government of laws. It's an idea that seems oddly anachronistic now, doesn't it?

Posted by: candideinnc on March 29, 2011 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

"I still don't know what happens if rebels and Gadhafi forces fight to a standoff."

I hear this a lot, but I haven't heard any discussion of Gadhafi's ability to resupply his forces. With international embargoes and complete control of the skies I don't think he can do it. The rebels do not have those constraints.

I'd like to hear an expert comment on how long Gadhafi can hole up in Tripoli with no ability to resupply.

Posted by: Newton Whale on March 29, 2011 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Why No Congress?

I, for one, would have loved to hear the President state that he did not go to Congress for final approval of this "act of war" because, simply, the Congress is broken. And then detail how bills have been fatally watered down and still blocked, how appointments go to the Senate to die, and the current status of the budget and inevitable government shutdown.

I'd like to hear him state that partisan strife has rendered the US government non-functional, but that as President, he doesn't have the luxury of sitting around doing nothing. (He doesn't need to make the obvious comparison with the Former Resident, but making the implication clear would be a nice touch.) He could, however, note the light workload of the House - just three part-days per week in session, the rest on the golf course with lobbyists.

He could add, in conclusion, that the American people have gotten a lot less than they expected, and vastly less than we deserve, from our choices in the last election. However, as President, he retains considerable power to act, and he's done so.

Posted by: zandru on March 29, 2011 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

You are asking Obama to predict the future. I think that's a bit unfair. Sometimes you gotta stop the car from going over a cliff before you figure out what to do next.

I would bet money that some people are trying to work those things out behind the scenes.

Posted by: Alli on March 29, 2011 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

In the 1960s one of the anti-war cries was, "The US isn't the world's policeman", and that resonated certainly among draft age men and their parents.

Now with a mercenary, oh, I mean volunteer, army and the country in the hands of right-wing militarists, we are indeed the world's policeman, and embracing the role. With over 700 foreign bases to 'maintain the peace' how are we not enforcing our hegemony just about everywhere?

To pay for this empire, with borrowed money, we are letting our infrastructure dangerously deteriorate, and cutting money for education, healthcare, housing, as well as creating a growing and permanent underclass that ultimately will rise up.

Google 'imperialism' and do a little reading. Our future has already been foretold, and it ain't pretty.

Posted by: rrk1 on March 29, 2011 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

"And the question Kucinich raised remains unanswered: If Obama had time to garner internatiopnal support, why did he not get the domestic support by getting congressional approval as required by the Constitution?"

Because time was a primary factor to prevent a genocide and we now know the House of Representatives will not negotiate.

Posted by: max on March 29, 2011 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I read in the NYT that we are employing AC-130 gunships and Warthog tank-killer aircraft there. I do not see how any desert army can stand up to this, so all the pissing and moaning is going to be academic pretty soon.

Posted by: bob h on March 29, 2011 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I want this done and us out of there quickly too. Right now, this has the potential to be a textbook case of what can be accomplished with partners, easy accessibility, and relatively well defined sides. I have said there is oil involved. I now think (realize?) that does not appear to be a factor in this for us. So far so good.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on March 29, 2011 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

This is a civil war. What Khadaffi wanted to do may have been murderous and evil, but it is not genocide. That argument is often tossed out nowadays as a rationalization for military action.

Posted by: candideinnc on March 29, 2011 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

You give a people a fighting chance to obtain liberty and let them write their history.

Posted by: clevergirl on March 29, 2011 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Theda Skocpol @ 8:31 FTW!

Why are liberals constantly expecting magical powers from Democratic presidents, and whining when they don't get them?

Covers a lot of ground.

Posted by: AK Liberal on March 29, 2011 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Why not Syria? Why not Bahrain? I will give Obama credit for, unlike his predecessor, getting international agreement to take action, but any decision to strike one country will, or should, always raise questions about other nations where action isn't taken.

We cannot be the world's policemen.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on March 29, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I wasn't aware that living up to one's campaign promises rather than doing the exact opposite was in fact a magical power.

Posted by: Tom Allen on March 29, 2011 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

In terms of making the case for a humanitarian-based mission, this is pretty compelling. In fact, the president repeatedly emphasized what makes this mission just and morally necessary.

If true, then it would be even MORE compelling for the enactment of sanctions, the seizure of assets, the launching of hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles, the implementation of No-Fly-Zones, and the use of low-flying aircraft against Bahrain

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 29, 2011 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Stetson Kennedy, at least you should give credit to Senator John McCain for using "We can not be the world's policeman" in a speech just after William Cohen was confirmed to be Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 29, 2011 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

DAY,

To paraphrase Trent Lott, If Reagan had acted swiftly after the Lockerby bombing, we wouldn't be having these troubles today.

As I’ve previously pointed out, all of the European intelligence agencies, as well as the Israeli Mossad, determined that it was the PFLP-GC that brought down Pan Am 103, not Gadhafi, or even anyone from Libya. Gadhafi was convenient for Bonzo Ronnie to bomb, just as Grenada was convenient for him to invade.

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 29, 2011 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

"together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians. It took us 31 days."

Even 31 days is too long in some instances, and the issue of who gets stuck with the cost still remains.

As we all know, this is no isolated incident. There are numerous other countries that are brutally repressing their citizens in the same manner as what is happening in Libya.

This is another example of a global problem requiring a global solution. At some point, an international summit of all nations needs to be convened and a baseline minimum of human rights agreed upon. Once that baseline is established, an international standing force needs to be established with an executive function based on meeting a certain number of parameters.

Such parameters would entail the torture or killing of citizens who were not breaking any laws or were seeking redress through non-violent means. When a certain threshold is reached, the international force would be dispatched to the area.

Yes, I'm talking about international government with an autonomous enforcement capability. This will requires countries ceding their autonomy within a clearly prescribed area, and I'm under no delusion this can be achieved any time soon (but hopefully within my lifetime).

No, I'm not talking about Pax Americana. If the US were found to be violating these parameters (god help us all if that were the case), we would be subject to the same enforcement provisions.

Until that happens, there will always be selective interventions while other atrocities are allowed to continue unabated.

Posted by: bdop4 on March 29, 2011 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

One of the points that people seem to have the most trouble with is the Admin's refusal to declare regime change as a goal of the military action, even though it is a policy goal of the U.S.

I think drawing this distinction was one of the smartest aspects of the intervention. Think of it this way: if you declare regime change to be the goal, or one of them, of the military action, then the action isn't over (and isn't a success) until Khadafi goes. Why should we put ourselves in that box?

Posted by: retr2327 on March 29, 2011 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

@Stetson Kennedy on :Why not Syria? Why not Bahrain? I will give Obama credit for, unlike his predecessor, getting international agreement to take action, but any decision to strike one country will, or should, always raise questions about other nations where action isn't taken.

He answered this in his speech. We really couldn't affect those countries, we can't go bombing cities to stop crackdowns, but here, in the desert, we could stop a genocide.hmmmmm lets ponder this a while... hmmmmm

Posted by: Michael on March 29, 2011 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Standoff? Not bloody likely!

My bet is that the blockade of the regime will be pretty effective, eventually but pretty quickly, at making it impossible for them to acquire sufficient weapons and munitions to defeat the rebels, who have NATO protecting their supply routes...not to mention providing whatever they need.

Posted by: Tom on March 29, 2011 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

"This isn't about taking oil reserves or no-bid contracts for the administration's buddies; this is about Obama's desire to avoid images of mass graves, knowing he could have prevented it."

Chuckle, Chuckle, Chuckle. And did not the Bush II Adminstration try the same tact with talk about freedom, democracy, protecting the Kurds from Saddam? His WMD? That he was a vicious dictator just like Gaadfi to justify the invasion?

What doesn't work for one president isn't going magically work just because he has a "D" after his name no matter how hard you try to justify it. I suggest you listen to Dennis Kucinich more often.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on March 29, 2011 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly