Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The dishonesty of Barack Obama's speech on Libya

Obama set up this distinction for his actions between those who wanted to do nothing on Libya and those who wanted a full-scale invasion of Libya to overthrow Qaddafi.
Now, just as there are those who have argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Gaddafi and usher in a new government.
I don't know of any serious analyst or politician who has advocated a full-scale invasion of Libya. As usual Obama is setting up one of his straw-dog arguments in order to shoot it down and set himself up as the one of the moderate middle.

Mark Thiessen calls foul on this straw-man creation.
This is a straw man, and the president knows it. No serious person is arguing that we should “repeat in Libya” what we did in Iraq. No serious person is arguing that we should send hundreds of thousands of ground troops to march on Tripoli and topple Moammar Gaddafi they way we marched on Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussein. What serious people are suggesting is that we help the Libyan resistance topple Gaddafi’s regime — not by sending American ground forces to do it for them, but by providing them with arms, training, intelligence and air support. The Libyan rebels were well on their way to marching on Tripoli, until Obama’s dithering at the United Nations gave Gaddafi time to drive them back to the gates of Benghazi. Now they are pushing west again, taking back towns and cities along the coast from pro-Gaddafi forces en route to the Libyan capital. How will Obama handle their offensive? Will he target Gaddafi’s forces if they push back against this rebel offensive? Will he provide air cover to the rebels as they march toward Tripoli? If he does not provide air cover, and the regime stops the rebel offensive, how will he handle the resulting stalemate? Will American air power protect liberated enclaves of Libya from Gaddafi’s forces, the same way we protected liberated enclaves in northern Iraq from Saddam Hussein? If so, for how long? A year? Five years? A decade? More? We don’t know the answers to such questions, because the president spent all his time today shooting down arguments for military action in Libya that no one is making.
He brags about turning the operation over to NATO, but that is really just a sleight of hand since we are the primary military arm of NATO. This AP fact-check article makes this point.
THE FACTS: As by far the pre-eminent player in NATO, and a nation historically reluctant to put its forces under operational foreign command, the United States will not be taking a back seat in the campaign even as its profile diminishes for public consumption.

NATO partners are bringing more into the fight. But the same "unique capabilities" that made the U.S. the inevitable leader out of the gate will continue to be in demand. They include a range of attack aircraft, refueling tankers that can keep aircraft airborne for lengthy periods, surveillance aircraft that can detect when Libyans even try to get a plane airborne, and, as Obama said, planes loaded with electronic gear that can gather intelligence or jam enemy communications and radars.
Is the difference that someone other than an American will be in charge of the mission? Or that the orders will come from a committee rather than the American commander in chief? The answer seems to be yes.
The United States supplies 22 percent of NATO's budget, almost as much as the next largest contributors — Britain and France — combined. A Canadian three-star general, Charles Bouchard, was selected to be in charge of all NATO operations in Libya. Bouchard is deputy commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples. The command's top officer is an American admiral, Samuel Locklear, and Locklear's boss is the supreme allied commander Europe, a post always held by an American.
The editors at The New Republic like a lot of what they heard from the President, but they are troubled by the President's ambivalence on his goal of having Qaddafi leave office but saying that that that is not a military goal of the United States.
The most obvious question is how Obama can reconcile his stated desire to see Muammar Qaddafi leave office with his insistence that our military actions are not designed to foment regime change in Libya. Obama’s attempt to resolve this contradiction was his statement that he intended to usher Qaddafi out of power via “non-military means.” In part, Obama seemed to be reassuring the American people that there would be no U.S. ground troops in Libya—a position with which we agree. But was he also foreclosing the possibility that NATO might continue to use its airpower to aid the rebels in their advance toward Tripoli? If so, why? And how does this square with the fact that we currently appear to be waging, in the description of The New York Times, “an all-out assault on Libya’s military”?
Our problem is that, while we want Qaddafi gone, we're just not sure that these rebel forces are the types of people that we would like to see in power in Libya. As Byron York writes, an indeterminate number of those fighting Qaddafi got their military experience as jihadis who travaled to Iraq and Afghanistan to try to kill American forces there. Can we trust such people to adopt a different stance once they overthrow Qaddafi? Who knows?

We seem to be seeing what the Obama Doctrine is. He will use American force to prevent a humanitarian slaughter of a people by their dictatorial leader if, and only if, he can get international backing at the United Nations. So Qaddafi can be opposed. But not Syria's Hassad or Iran's Ahmadinejad if they do the same thing. And not in the Sudan. As Allahpundit writes,
So if I have this straight, (1) a bloodbath was looming in Benghazi, (2) America’s role as leader of freedom-loving peoples gives it a special duty to intervene abroad to prevent bloodbaths and protect human rights, but (3) if we can’t do it as part of an international effort, too bad, so sad. Does that make sense? Especially given that the “leadership” evinced in coalition-building here wasn’t as robust as it was in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Brutal dictators around the world must be breathing a sigh of relief.

Allahpundit links to this chart from Foreign Policy of the number of nations involved in US military actions since Desert Storm. Just counting the number of nations involved, both Bushes and Clinton in Bosnia had much larger coalitions than Obama does in Libya. If Qaddafi is such an unpopular guy whom everyone wants to see out of power and what we're doing doesn't involve ground troops, why isn't that list longer? And if getting the Arab League on board was so crucial, what does it mean that they have now backed off their original support?

Yes, it is good that the President had a serious speech to explain to the American people why he has decided to take this action. That is what he should do; it is the job of the American president.

And just think. If the President had spoken earlier when we first launched this action, it not only would have been the right thing to do, but he wouldn't have had to push his speech into non-prime time in order not to preempt Dancing with the Stars.