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Obama to the World on Libya: You First

March 23, 2011 By: Scott Spiegel Category: War on Terror

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Here’s a fun fact regarding President Obama’s Saturday announcement that the U.S. would finally be getting around to joining the international coalition to use military force against Libya’s Colonel Moammar Qaddafi in retaliation for his having unleashed government firepower against rebels.  Guess how many times Obama used any of the following words in his speech: victory, victorious, win, winning, defeat, right, just, moral, triumph, success, good, evil.  (Hint: it’s the same number of controversial NCAA Final Four picks he made last week.)  That’s right—0!

In contrast, he managed to squeeze in all of these words and phrases: international (10 uses), allies (6), partners (6), community (5), United Nations (3), not acting alone (3), coalition (2), league (2), council (2), coordinate (2), agree, join, meet, part, and union.

With so little emphasis on what we’re actually doing in Libya, how we’re going to do it, and with what expected results, an alien visiting Earth might be forgiven for wondering why we need to engage in so much coalition-building to do it.

What kind of corporation launching a new product deemphasizes: the product, the technology required to develop it, the need for it in the market, and the projected sales; yet fills up their business plan with reams of details on which contractors they’re going to generously give business to, which stores they’re going to offer their product to, which companies’ toes they’re going to avoid stepping on, and which corporations they might someday merge with?

The message Obama has been sending the world is: we’re not necessarily going to do anything about Libya, and we’re definitely not going to take the lead on it, but if there are lots of others of you who are going to do something, then we’re right there with you.

There are good arguments for and against bombing Libya; a sane case can be made either way.  A surprising number of liberals have come out in favor (Hillary Clinton, John Kerry); a surprising number of conservatives have come out against (Andrew McCarthy, Haley Barbour).

I happen to favor air strikes, though not without being able to see the other side’s point.  The idea that we should butt out of Libya, Egypt, Iran, etc. is premised on the notion that no matter what we do, Middle Eastern dictators will be replaced by worse dictators of the hard-line Islamic variety.  I reject this idea, and I don’t care about the warning the do-nothing crowd has offered that radical Islamist groups favor removing these tyrants.  Just because those groups support toppling Ahmadinejad, Mubarak, and Qaddafi doesn’t mean we can’t support it, but for different reasons.  They support it because it’s their best chance to install Islamic leaders; we support it because it’s our best chance to install pro-liberty leaders.  The choice isn’t “Do nothing” or “Topple the dictator and let the chips fall where they may”—the missing alternative is “Topple the dictator, and make sure someone better gets in there.”

That said, if I were Leader of the Free World, I think I would have circulated an inkling to the globe what my position was one way or another, pretty early on, before any action were too late.

Instead, Obama has given the impression that he wanted to find out what the cool kids were doing so he could join them and be part of the crowd.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we could believe that Obama has been seriously, meticulously scrutinizing the situation in Libya, weighing his options, not committing until the exact right time.  (It wouldn’t be so bad, in other words, if Obama hadn’t been spending his time playing golf, announcing his bracket picks, and practicing his Brazilian Portuguese.)  But given his talk during the 2008 campaign about the necessity of international consensus and the arrogance of acting alone, odds are he was waiting until a critical mass of world players signed on before sticking his scrawny neck out.

There are three possibilities that explain Obama’s dithering on Libya, none reassuring.  First: he had no idea what to do, was being pushed back and forth by pro- and anti-invasion camps in his administration, and simply went with the international consensus once it coalesced.  Second: he favored invasion, but didn’t want to take action until there was international support.  Third, and most disturbing: he didn’t favor invasion, but decided to go with that option once the world’s players came out for it.

Given Obama’s hemming and hawing on Afghanistan, whereby private accounts suggest he didn’t want to initiate a troop surge in 2009 but did so anyway, and given his indirect ties to Qaddafi via Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan, I fear the third possibility most likely.

Behold a president who acts, not because he believes the United States has a unique historical and moral standing in the world and should take the lead on rectifying injustice, and possibly not even because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, but because… everyone else is doing it.

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