The Washington Examiner has an interesting article on how President Obama used parliamentary trickery to talk Congress into approving a Libyan no-fly zone. It’s as though we have traveled into some bizarre parallel universe: President Obama, the peace candidate, has now fully embraced the the doctrine of preemptive military action. President Obama, who in 2007 said that “the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation” has unilaterally authorized a military attack on a nation that posed no imminent threat to this country.
Not to mention the fact that President Obama has now endorsed military tribunals at Guantanamo for al-Qaeda detainees…
Exactly what is the difference between President Obama’s military policy and President Bush’s?
If You Strike At The King…
Of course, Obama’s supporters will argue that the difference between Obama’s wars and Bush’s is that Obama is supposedly more competent as a Commander in Chief. But the evidence suggests otherwise. What is our goal for military action in Libya? Are we trying to bring the rebels into power—without knowing who they really are? That hardly seems like a smart strategy. Is it to overturn Qaddafi? If that’s the goal, then why is President Obama denying any intention to assassinate the dictator? There is no clear goal, and the President’s desire to fight only a limited, bloodless war… or “kinetic military action” is in contradiction to the reality of war.
If our goal is to get rid of the Qaddafi regime, then the goal should be to blown Mohammar Qaddafi straight to hell. No questions asked. If we want to support the rebels, we should be doing what we did in Afghanistan—sending CIA teams to work directly with them in getting rid of the regime. (Which, admittedly, may already be happening.) We should not be fighting a war with half measures.
And worse of all, we may not be winning. We have committed to this fight, and once this nation commits to a fight, we should see it through. What message would Qaddafi’s continued rule over Libya send to the rest of the world. Al-Qaeda has always played off the Arab psychology of the “strong horse” versus the “weak horse,” and if Qaddafi hangs on, America (and the rest of its allies) will undoubtedly look weak.
Following In Bush’s Footsteps
So what should President Obama do? It’s clear that he faces a skeptical public and a restive Congress. (George W. Bush must be feeling at least some schadenfreude at this turn of events.) Plus, time may be running out. The Libyan rebellion cannot hold out forever, unless they are resupplied and rearmed from outside.
The President needs to admit that Qaddafi’s regime must be destroyed. We have committed to that end, and we have to see the task through. That means more than just engaging in limited and sporadic military action. That means decapitating Qaddafi’s military, cutting their supply lines, and killing them before they can kill civilians or the rebels. It is messy, it is bloody, and for all our technological advancement, it can’t be done effectively from 30,000 feet in the air.
But in the end, President Obama is right about one thing—even if inadvertently. For too long we have tolerated Arab dictators who have systematically oppressed their people, and the result has been the growth of groups like al-Qaeda. These dictators have systematically tried to suppress the normal civil society of a functioning state and replace it with cults of personality, pan-Arab nationalism, or sectarian intimidation. But what has happened is to create a situation in which the only groups that dare speak out, that give the people some escape valve, have been the religious fanatics.
President Bush seemed to instinctively understand this. President Obama does not, except in a deeply attenuated way. But ultimately, President Obama has stumbled into following the path of his predecessor. He has embraced everything that Candidate Obama railed against just a few short years ago: preemptive war, indefinite detention, all the sins of the Bush Administration. Next thing you know, he’ll be mispronouncing “nuclear.”
But the problem is that if President Obama is going to follow this path, he should do it boldly. If President Obama wants to be a champion of democracy in the Arab world, he should do so consistently. But sadly, this does not seem likely. Instead, President Obama is only taking action in Libya because the rest of the world has endorsed it. There is no “Obama Doctrine,” no grand strategy other than the hope that Qaddafi will fall and everything will be alright. Just as the Bush Administration (and some of its supporters) naively hoped that the fall of Saddam would lead to a flourishing of Iraqi democracy.
What is sad about this state of affairs is that not only is President Obama emulating many of President Bush’s strategies, he is emulating many of President Bush’s mistakes.