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Stumbling into the Libyan War

Note to the administration: less spokesmen, more clarity. President Obama needs to come back from South America and address the nation. He needs to explain to the country why it is we are attacking Libya, what our objectives are, and all the rest of it. The administration seems understandably concerned about the possibility of a prolonged, protracted war. But one does not avoid such an outcome by ignoring it. Such a possibility is all the more reason to be articulate and clear about what the mission is.  Therefore, once the servicemen of the U.S. military accomplish it -- which they will -- we can be assured that we achieved what we set out to do.

President Obama has said there will be no U.S. ground troops in the operation, the cost of which topped $100 million after the first day. Should Obama seek to assuage the worries of a cash-stripped, war-weary American public, he merely needs to say that there will be no U.S. occupation of Libya; no decade-long nation-building effort. But such an announcement would not preclude the aim of overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi. Now that we’re in it, we ought to stay in it until Gaddafi is removed from power.  We should watch the chips fall where they may and do business with whoever assumes control of the government. We ought to avoid mission-creep.

George W. Bush spent more than a year trying to justify the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Congress authorized the Iraq mission and listed 23 justifications for doing so. With Libya, everything’s much murkier. We have seen President Obama, cool and detached, “vote present” before. There was the BP oil spill (“I can’t suck it up with a straw”). There were the democratic uprisings in Iran (he was cooking with Bobby Flay). Will objective minds soon contrast Obama’s handling of the recent Japanese tsunami with Bush’s handling of the 2004 South Asian tsunami?

We’ve seen President Obama prioritize NCAA brackets over the budget, high-speed Internet over the debt, beer summits over entitlement reform, health insurance over unemployment, and golf over nearly everything. Even on issues where Obama adopts the position of his critics -- Afghanistan, for instance -- one never gets the feeling his heart is in it. He rarely addresses the nation about Afghanistan; he doesn’t seem to have a passionate opinion on the matter.

And so this seems the case with Libya, as well. Our ambivalent leadership has gotten the nation into another war. Should Gaddafi cling to power, Libya will rejoin the ranks of Iran, Syria, and North Korea -- the most hostile states in the world.