Monthly Archives: April 2011

Viet-Libya

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In light of a possible stalemate in Libya, President Obama, at the prodding of England’s David Cameron and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, has restated his position on the matter:  ”Qaddafi must go, and must go for good.”  Realizing the world powers can’t just stir up the Libyan beehive without killing the queen, this combined strategy spells the fatal end for Qaddafi, unless we offer asylum.  This is a complete reversal of what Obama said the week before, downplaying our efforts in Libya.  Though we have handed off power to NATO, the United States has not exited the area; in fact, we’re doubling down on our efforts there.

Why does Libya even matter?  As the media has pointed out in recent days, America may not lose a single soldier in Libya.  It doesn’t “feel like war,” the media quips.  That is to say, it doesn’t feel like war to us; I doubt Hiroshima felt like war to the American pilot.  On the ground, it’s a different story.

Speaking of “on the ground,” the President promised no “boots on the ground” – that is, no U.S. ground troops – is now covertly deploying CIA operatives into Libya, and U.S. Marines off the coast, in support of this war – I mean, “kinetic military action.”  I just hope they’re wearing sneakers, and not boots.  Of course, I digress and jest, but in actuality, U.S. Army Generals are now mulling the idea of entry into Libya.

Recall and Report

American intervention in Libya may turn out fine.   The consequences of our presence there, however, will likely not; go ahead and mark my words on that.  The funding of rebels resembles our actions in the Bay of Pigs fiasco; the Iran-Contra affair; and the Soviet-Afghan war.  Recall the rebels aided three decades ago in another Muslim nation: Afghanistan.  Due somewhat to our encroachment there, we had to return to fight those we aided decades earlier.  After another full decade of conflict, against the weaponry we provided then, we have not yet left, and won’t for some time.

This is the general result of mission creep.  When there are no goals and no end game, we dither while America’s military dies.  Then we’re caught in a military quagmire America is quite familiar with, where the public debates our presence there.  Recall the “If we leave, they’ll follow us here” arguments of the past decade.

Additionally, the logic used for intervention in Libya closely resembles that of Vietnam and Korea during the “Cold” War as part of a “containment” strategy.  There, we participated in limited combat against an aggressor alongside the weaker opponent; neither are shining examples of American greatness.  In terms of American hubris, the logic also resembles Clinton’s reasoning to intervene in Kosovo; there, we relied on an international caucus – NATO – to dictate and prescribe the use of American military capacity against a potential genocide.  It should be noted Clinton’s movement in Kosovo followed his hesitance to intervene in the Rwandan Genocide (in 1994), which followed his failed mission in the Somali Civil War (in 1991).

More importantly, our intervention of Libya can be compared and contrasted, with George W. Bush’s decision to act in Iraq, which is discussed later herein.

“Doctrine” vs. Doctrine

In his speech to justify intervention in Libya, President Obama stressed our efforts to arm unknown rebels (and as of this writing, to ultimately kill a sovereign leader) are “humanitarian” in nature.  There is a humanitarian effort awaiting us, and it’s in Japan, but I guess that one was too easy.

In fairness, the speech was not entirely bad; I will point out the key ideas and assess them as I see them.  At first glance, the case made by President Obama somewhat resembles the Bush Doctrine for preemptive strike in Iraq, particularly with regard to our values; in defending his actions before the nation, President Obama made clear:  ”When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.”  He elaborated on this point:

“As I’ve said before, our strength abroad is anchored in our strength here at home.  That must always be our North Star — the ability of our people to reach their potential, to make wise choices with our resources, to enlarge the prosperity that serves as a wellspring for our power, and to live the values that we hold so dear.  But let us also remember that for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe.  We have done so because we know that our own future is safer, our own future is brighter, if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity.”

So I ask:  Were our interests at stake in Libya?  A more difficult question:  Were our values at stake?  At this point in history, we have no primary concerns in Libya – that is, no economic or security concerns.  So when do we move?  I defer to my reasoning in my post “Frenemies ‘R’ Us” regarding our support for democratic movements abroad; says I:

“We must always support the democratic process, no matter the outcome.  We must not publicly endorse one side over the other.  We may, behind the scenes and through diplomatic ties, root for one side over the other, but not publicly.  In keeping with this thumbrule, the United States reserves the right to publicly oppose (or sanction) any outcome which disagrees with our core values; this is ethical realism.”

President Obama sees it differently.  He does not want a cohesive strategy.  He wants to reserve the right to pick and choose how we deal with fellow nations, saying:

“I think it’s important not to take this particular situation and then try to project some sort of Obama Doctrine that we’re going to apply in a cookie-cutter fashion across the board.  Each country in this region is different. Our principles remain the same.”

But what are our foreign policy principles if they shift periodically?  This is where liberal foreign policy and domestic policy coalesce: they are both built on feeling, not thought.  That’s how Senator Obama, waaay back in December 2007, sounded totally different:  “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.”  Therefore, there are no precedents, no strategies, no principles for military intervention abroad.  The Obama Doctrine, therefore, is No Doctrine.

I will concede that some ambiguity in foreign affairs can be advantageous for an American President, in order to “keep ‘em guessing.”  I would also say, regardless of Obama’s embrace of the No Doctrine, that a semblance of a doctrine surfaced in his speech: ”I’ve made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests.”  I agree with the President on this point; we simply disagree on his definition of “core interests,” which leaves him too much leeway to act as a dictator without justification.

So what is “humanitarian intervention?”  Do we have a moral obligation to act in another country’s civil uprising?  Let me ask this:  How would we regard another country, say France or Spain, intervening in the American Civil War?  Although neutral, their minimal relations were highly provocative; just imagine if they had recognized the South and called for Lincoln’s ouster, which is the equivalent of our diplomacy over Libya.

Here’s my Doctrine: I believe we act when faced with clear and present danger, and during a genocide, but not in another nation’s civil war based on political beliefs.  Again, I believe we reserve the right to act in the wake of an uprising if our actual interests are at stake.

Restraint Pays

In his speech, President Obama showed a sliver of global leadership by saying:

“In such cases, we should not be afraid to act -– but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.  As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action.”

Like it or not, the United States is relied upon as the world’s watchdog.  As we have found, this is not without consequence.  I concur with relinquishing some of this responsibility, but I disagree with letting go of American power.  This is a delicate balance and I am unsure if the Obama White House understands their challenge.  Obama acquiesced this by pledging not to go after Qaddafi directly, saying:

“Of course, there is no question that Libya — and the world — will be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

Through a historical study of global conflicts, I’m convinced that with intervention or “Nation Building,” it has to be done 100%, or nothing at all.  I cite Post-World War II Germany and Japan, and to some extent, Iraq, as examples.  A complete regime change from the outside can work, if done correctly.  (The redistricting of the Ottoman Empire Post-World War I was done incorrectly.)  Regime change must therefore be handled meticulously.  Conversely, meddling, and then dithering, is like kicking a beehive and then trying to reason with the queen.   This is precisely what we are doing now in Libya.  If we don’t have the willpower or the capacity to undertake such a mission, then restraint is a favorable strategy in foreign policy intervention, barring other costs.

Which brings us to another point:  Obama states monetary cost as a reason for not going into Libya; simply put, Iraq cost too much.  Uneasiness about the cost at this point in our fiscal history provides even more reason for restraint.

Worse Than Iraq

For whatever the reason, and contrary to his campaign rhetoric, restraint has not the Obama position in Libya.  It turns out, Obama’s not much different from George W. Bush, who said, in his Second Inaugural Address:

“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.  America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.”

I would submit, however, that the logic that supports intervention in Libya is much worse than the logic that plummeted us into Iraq, for the following reasons:

1. Whereas President George W. Bush went to Congress for a vote on action in Iraq, President Barack H. Obama notified Congress of action in Libya three days later.  No American President should be required to go to the Congress for immediate military action; a President’s actions, however, should be immediately reviewed by Congress.  In contrast to Iraq, this Congress has not addressed Libya a month later.

2. Whereas Iraq presented a clear and present danger to American national security, no danger of the sort existed in Libya.  This is a point of contention between top officials in the Administration, given our Defense and State Secretaries have publicly disagreed over whether or interest were at stake in Libya.  There was little contention about the risk in Iraq, although all assumptions proved to be wrong.

3. Whereas the Bush Doctrine was a freedom agenda, democracy notwithstanding, the Obama Doctrine is a democracy agenda, freedom notwithstanding; and, whereas Obama has stressed the importance of peace, security, democracy, humanitarianism, and the rule of law, he has downplayed any sense of freedom, as it is defined, in the region.  The right to vote is an element of democracy, not freedom.  Many in the region will vote to restrict the freedoms of others, based on religious preference or bloodline.  It seems the Obama Administration is indifferent to this little nugget.

4. Whereas Bush did not seek UN approval to act, it is now evident Obama would not have acted without UN approval;  and whereas an international coalition had an idea of what the Bush Doctrine meant, yet was slow to act, an international coalition has little idea what the goals of the Obama Doctrine are, but was still fast to act.  Whereas Bush emphasized our leadership role in Iraq, Obama downplays it in Libya, deferring instead to an international community.

Irresponsible Intervention

Recall how the media decimated Bush; they now provide cover for Obama.  Recall how Bush was criticized by Obama for intervening in Iraq; Obama, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, launched an unprovoked attack against another nation.

Lastly, Recall how Bush pointedly waged war on extremism; Obama is empowering the extremists, including al Qaeda factions the media simply calls “rebels.”  This is the worst consequence of all.  Obama cannot form a strategy out of our actions herein, and indeed may be emboldening “rebels” in other nations to incite bloodshed, thus calling upon the United States to act there as well.  In the end, those without principle and strategy cannot be trusted with the reins of power.

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.  Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” ~ George Washington

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Apr 20, 2011

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