In the heat of the moment, Obama could have taken out Khadafy without much of an explanation. But now he must offer a rationale that's very hard to square with what's going on in the rest of the Mideast. Obama says Libyan rebels must be protected from a leader who would kill them "without mercy." OK, does that apply as well to Saudi, Yemeni, Bahraini and Iranian rebels? No? Why not?Michael Barone chimes in on all the internal contradictions of Obama's policy choices.
Now that America is rescuing losing rebels rather than lending support to winning ones, we'll "own" the next Libyan regime. Let's cross our fingers on that score.
Back when Obama seemed to be doing nothing, he was resolute that Khadafy "must go." But now that he has taken action, we're fighting merely to protect Libyan citizens, as per the UN resolution authorizing force. If ousting Khadafy is in our national interest, why settle for something less in exchange for international support? And what does it mean when -- as is already happening -- Obama's coalition of the willing starts to unravel?
Why does pursuing our national interest hinge on approval from the Arab League and UN Security Council and not Congress? In the heat of the moment, presidents can't always wait for congressional approval. But if we can wait for the Gabonese to say yes, surely we can wait for the US Senate.
Obama, who campaigned on ending Mideast wars, not starting them, wanted a war on his own terms. He got what he wished for.
Obama's policy is reminiscent of the old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. The policy satisfies advocates of humanitarian intervention, like the National Security Council's Samantha Power, who remember Bill Clinton's regret that he didn't intervene to stop the slaughter in Rwanda.But if Obama's goal is to be the un-Bush, he's achieving that.
Unfortunately, in order to satisfy those who oppose anything smacking of unilateralism, it took time to get the security council to act, so that we missed the moment when it seemed possible that recognition of a rebel government or imposition of a no-fly zone would topple Gadhafi.
That delay gave him time to launch a counterattack that made him strong enough to withstand the limited military action that could get multilateral approval.
By accepting limits on U.S. involvement, Obama aims to satisfy skeptics of military action, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who publicly pointed out the difficulties of maintaining a no-fly zone. We have seen this before, when Obama announced his surge in Afghanistan together with a deadline for the beginning of troop withdrawals.
The result in Libya is a policy whose means seem unlikely to produce the desired ends.
In the process, this Democratic president has jettisoned some of the basic tenets of his party's foreign policy.
"It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action," candidate Obama said in December 2007. But Congress was not informed or, it seems, consulted in any serious way about this decision to take military action in Libya.
Instead members of Congress, like the general public, heard the president make the announcement in Rio de Janeiro. That's quite a contrast with George W. Bush, who sought and obtained congressional approval of military action in Afghanistan in September 2001 and Iraq in October 2002.Foreign policy is hard enough to carry out successfully. But if our nation's foreign policy leaders are confused about what our goals are, success becomes even more unlikely.
Since then many Democrats have denounced Bush's "rush to war" in Iraq. But military action there began a full five months after Congress approved. Obama didn't wait five days after the Security Council resolution.
Bush argued that intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq was in the national interest. Obama, who has made the same argument about Afghanistan, doesn't seem to be making it about Libya. For some supporters of his policy, the absence of any great national interest makes it all the more attractive.