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Works and Days

President Obama’s Ten Libyan Paradoxes

March 27th, 2011 - 10:24 am

6) It’s Only Congress. Both Bushes went to the U.S. Congress before they bombed and invaded. Clinton and Obama did not. Is there a pattern here? The liberal War Powers Act is a good brake on conservative Strangeloves, but a mere nuisance to humanitarian liberal McNamaras? We can argue over the need to get congressional approval before major military operations (I think we must), but I don’t think in my lifetime a U.S. president has ever asked for both a UN and Arab League OK — and not the sanction of the Congress of his own country (e.g., our reps were voted in, theirs were not). That paradox is also unsustainable. At some point the president will either 1) ignore the limitations of the UN and Arab League mandated no-fly-zones (while praising them to the skies); or 2) get so involved that when he finally goes to Congress, Libya is a fait accompli in the way Clinton finessed it during the Balkan bombing. (I am still waiting for Joe Biden to go to Congress to impeach his boss, as he once boasted twice that he would do if any president bombed a Middle East country without congressional approval. Or for that matter, I am still waiting for Senator Obama to demand that President Obama get approval from his peers before, not after, bombing.)

7) Oh, So that Was What Iraq Was About. Libya is now an exegesis of the Iraq War. By now we know that the Bush-Cheney “shredding” of the Constitution (e.g., tribunals, wiretaps, intercepts, renditions, preventative detention, Predator drones, and Guantanamo Bay) was simply a liberal talking point. Why do we know that? Because Obama has either embraced or expanded all of those anti-terrorism protocols, and even hired the very lawyers and deans to legitimize them who used to sue the government to stop them. But Libya was the capstone of the entire liberal reset. When the MSNBC talking heads now support bombing an oil-producing Muslim Arab country that does not threaten our national security — without congressional approval, and with fewer allies than went with us to Afghanistan and Iraq — then we realize the entire Iraq hysteria was simply partisan politics, not about principles. That’s why we won’t see Rendition II at the movies, a return of Cindy Sheehan to network news, or Michael Moore in the VIP seats at the 2012 Democratic convention.

8) No Such Thing As Victory, But Real Defeat? Obama has lectured us that there is no such silly construct as “victory.” I have written that it is an age-old concept that takes no account of technological changes and will outlast Obama quite easily. If you do not believe in victory (in this case, the removal of Gaddafi and his clique, the occupation of the cities by the rebels, and the influx of Western money and expertise to “guide” them), you will not achieve it. That eventuality would mean either a multi-year Iraq-like no-fly zone with Gaddafi in power; a Mogadishu or 1983 Lebanon scram home; or a Joe Biden trademark bisection of the country — in other words, a thing called “defeat.”

9) Virtual War. Team Obama prefers language to reality. We saw that with the silly euphemisms that were supposed to end the war on terror and, indeed, terrorism itself by dubbing them “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters.” Now we are told that the U.S is “turning over” and “toning down” the war we helped start after a violent week of missile and jet attacks. But even language — or a non-U.S. NATO field commander, or four Arab jets —  cannot hide the fact that the U.S. is providing 90% of the missiles, jets, close logistical support, and costs. Here too is our ninth paradox: if you are going to war, at least go to war to win and take the credit for the sacrifice. Are we to remove Gaddafi, take the risk, and thank the Europeans for leading us? Obama does not see that by trying to avoid getting blamed should things go bad, he will not be so able to claim the laurels if they should go well (and it is rather stupid to ever bet against the U.S. military — which brings us to #10).

10. Don’t Bet Against the U.S. Military. The military is still by default running the campaign. Compute the poor leadership from the White House. Add in the politically correct brakes put on our generals and admirals. Factor the multicultural fig leafs tossed about. Don’t forget the savagery of a cornered Gaddafi, and the incompetence of the rebels — and far more — and our pilots can still remove him and in weeks rather than months. They were trained and their weapons of war built far before Obama came on the scene and they will be there far after he is gone from it. Tie them up with tactical, strategic, political, economic, social, and cultural shackles and they still can beat Colonel Gaddafi — especially in a Mediterranean landscape of easy logistics, flat terrain, and good weather — and mostly unobstructed lightly populated targets. If the president can stomach CNN shots of his Stalingrad rubble and Christiane Amanpour weeping about innocents lost as she points to the U.S. serial numbers on the burnt casings of GPS bombs, the U.S. can run him out without sending in the Marines.

Epilogue

So Obama’s problem is not winning a victory that he will be uncomfortable with, but what to do with it after he’s been given it. It will tax all his rhetoric powers to praise the rebels as Jeffersonians as he declares a new sort of multilateral global way of war, while turning the postwar mess over to the oil-hungry and nearby old colonial Europeans as he heads to the fairways — about the best we could hope for at this point. Because of points 1-9, I wrote over three weeks ago that it was a bad idea to go into Libya.

But that does not mean that the U.S. cannot take a very bad idea and still turn it into something salvageable that it should not try again. A Euro-protectorate in Tripoli, run by pro-Western reformers, garrisoned by troops in Balkans-style, all dressed up with EU sanctimonious rhetoric about stopping “genocide” and promoting “humanitarianism,” staffed with Euros, NGOs and UN-types, and with American liberals heavily invested in it, albeit at a good distance, is unlikely and sounds surreal. But it is still possible and the sort of thing we must hope for at this late stage of Obama’s misadventure — a sort of foreign policy bookend to his still spiraling health care fiasco.

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