Initial Reaction To War In Libya

As is true in so many areas, Barack Obama’s action regarding Libya represents a tremendous improvement over the policies of the Bush years, but does not go as far as I’d like in presenting change. Now that the United States is involved militarily it is not the best time to dwell over whether we should be there. Ultimately the answer will depend upon factors such as whether we can really be successful in maintaining a limited involvement to save lives without getting involved in a prolonged war or nation building.

Reviewing opinions from politicians, and especially blogs, from the right there is the usual irrational thought, often based upon ignorance or intentional deception. This is also true of some of the comments from the far left but, as usual, I’m paying even less attention to them as, unlike the extremists of the far right which control a major political party, the extremists on the left are not of any real significance. Michael Moore has little more credibility with me than Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, but Moore does not have the type of influence on the Democratic Party that Beck and Limbaugh have on the GOP. This is the case when Moore is being dishonest on issues where I partially agree with him, such as health care reform, and true when his tweets on the current issue are counter to fact.

The best analysis might come from  Marc Ambinder in the National Journal. Ambinder concluded:

It was important to the U.S. that Libyans and the world understand that this coalition of the willing was more than a U.S. rhetorical construct. An hour before bombing began Saturday, Clinton spoke to the press in Paris. Asked why military action was in America’s interest, she gave three reasons and implied a fourth. A destabilizing force would jeopardize progress in Tunisia and Egypt; a humanitarian disaster was imminent unless prevented; Qaddafi could not flout international law without consequences. The fourth: there’s a line now, and one that others countries had better not cross.

The development of a new doctrine in the Middle East is taking form, and it could become a paradigm for how the international community deals with unrest across the region from now on. The new elements include the direct participation of the Arab world, the visible participation of U.S. allies, as well as a very specific set of military targets designed to forestall needless human suffering. Though the Libyan situation is quite unique – its military is nowhere near as strong as Iran’s is, for one thing – Obama hopes that a short, surgical, non-US-led campaign with no ground troops will satisfy Americans skeptical about military intervention and will not arouse the suspicions of Arabs and Muslims that the U.S. is attempting to influence indigenously growing democracies.

Some conservative bloggers are arguing that Obama is adopting the policies of George Bush, totally missing several important distinctions. Unlike with Iraq, the reason for going in is clear. Obama has not subjected us to an endless series of lies regarding the reasons for going to war, ranging from false claims of treats from WMD to false claims of involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Obama is going to war as part of a coalition of other nations and obtained the support of the United Nations before taking action against another country in a situation where the United States was not directly endangered. Obama also has pledged not to use United States ground troops, and does not appear to be interested in an occupation of yet a third country.

Fox has also taken the opportunity to raise false claims, such as that Obama is going on vacation as opposed to paying attention to the war. Think Progress reports:

Over the last 48 hours, as President Obama contemplated and then authorized U.S.-led military strikes in Libya “in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians,” Fox News talking heads have attempted to foment domestic political opposition to the president by questioning his priorities and leadership. Seizing on Obama’s current five-day trip to Brazil and other Latin American countries, Fox pundits have repeatedly said he is distracted in Rio de Janeiro and not adequately focused on the military action in Libya.

“He’s going on vacation; he’s going to Rio!” an incredulous Steve Doocy commented. “He’s on vacation in Rio,” Fox contributor Ralph Peters said, echoing the network’s attack. Referencing Rio, Washington Times columnist Charles Hurt opined, “President Obama has absolutely abdicated his role as leader of the free world.”

Obama’s pre-scheduled Latin American trip is intended to strengthen the U.S.’s trading role with some of the world’s fastest growing markets. But the agenda of the trip has been overshadowed, as Obama has turned his focus to Libya.

Perhaps Fox News pundits should read Fox News’ website. Here’s how Fox’s White House reporter Eve Zibel, who is traveling with Obama on the trip, reported on the president’s priorities on his first day:

Libya Dominates President Obama’s First Day in South America On the first day of President Obama’s first trip to South America, it was not relations with Brazil or its president that was front and center, but instead, attention was directly focused on Libya and the start of military action.

On a Fox website, a Reuters report states, “Obama’s only planned sightseeing in Rio will be to the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer hilltop statue, and even that had to be postponed from morning until evening to give him time for early briefings on the Libyan situation.”

Despite the evidence from news reports on Fox’s own websites that Obama is focused on Libya, network pundits continue to seize on any shallow criticism of the Commander-in-Chief.

While spending too much time on all the factual and logical errors being made by right wing bloggers and pundits is not worthwhile, the comments from John McCain are worth noting, despite McCains long history of being wrong on foreign policy. Many conservatives agree with McCain’s mistaken view that Obama should have acted too soon and should use more than air power. In other words McCain would not have taken time to obtain international cooperation, most likely getting the country dragged into a third war which the United States would bear most of the burden of.

The delay was warranted, but Obama’s action was not perfect here (even if we accept for the sake of  discussion that his ultimate decision was right). While true that presidents before him have all too often initiated military action without either a declaration of war or adequate consultation with Congress, this could have been the perfect situation for Obama to provide a real change. In a situation such as this, where the United States was not in imminent danger and there was already going to be a delay until military action was initiated, there was ample time to bring this matter before Congress.

Obtaining international support was the right thing to do, but even this did not work out perfectly If the reaction from the American right wing has been irrational, the response by the Arab League has been far worse. From AP:

The head of the Arab League has criticized international strikes on Libya, saying they caused civilian deaths.

The Arab League’s support for a no-fly zone last week helped overcome reluctance in the West for action in Libya. The U.N. authorized not only a no-fly zone but also “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.

Amr Moussa says the military operations have gone beyond what the Arab League backed.

Moussa has told reporters Sunday that “what happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives.” He says “what we want is civilians’ protection not shelling more civilians.”

U.S. and European strikes overnight targeted mainly air defenses, the U.S. military said. Libya says 48 people were killed, including civilians.

Their initial calls for a no-fly zone were naive if they consider the military action to date to now be grounds to withdraw their support. I only hope that our involvement doesn’t increase much more, which there is considerable risk of happening. There was even a sensible warning from one conservative today, George Will, when asked if this was the right thing to do:

“I do not,” Will said. “We have intervened in a tribal society in a civil war. And we’ve taken sides in that civil war on behalf of people we do not know or understand for the purpose of creating a political vacuum by decapitating that government. Into that vacuum, what will flow? We do not know. We cannot know.”

There is certainly an understandable tendency to want to intervene to protect civilians fighting against a tyrant, but Will is right in questioning the impact of intervening in a tribal society in an area where many hold extremist beliefs supporting Muslim fundamentalism.

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