Libyan strikes spur rampant ambivalence

I listen to Cong. Michael Capuano and Niki Tsongas criticize President Obama for not taking the Libyan military action to Congress and, as an old anti-Vietnam War activist, I applaud their stance. It’s hard not to be concerned that what starts out as a police action may suck us into something more prolonged, costing American lives, blood and national spirit. But, mindful of America’s failures to take action in the Rwandan genocide and even President Clinton’s slowness to take action in Kosovo, I find myself also joining those critical of President Obama for taking three weeks to participate militarily enforcing the Libyan no-fly zone.

Was he simply weighing American interests and his personal interest in the 2012 reelection campaign, or was he just hoping that the squirrelly Arab League and others wouldn’t get it together to get the United Nations to act, giving him cover?

So I look to the President’s scheduled speech to the nation tomorrow night to clarify just what is America’s policy in the fermenting Middle East generally, and what the end game is in Libya in particular. On the Sunday morning political affairs discussion programs, even Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were not exactly singing from the same hymnal regarding how vital Libya is to our vital national interest.

Clinton talked about the intervention as a way of keeping Gaddafi’s military from killing civilians and preventing the bloodshed from driving refugees into the precarious environments of Egypt and Tunisia. In a Meet The Press roundtable discussion, Koppel pointed out the hypocrisy, saying our air action was the “humanitarian defense sweepstakes of 2011.”  Five million civilians were killed in the Congo, two to three million in the Sudan, and, he noted, the United States did nothing. Nearly a million refugees were driven out of the Ivory Coast, and the United States did nothing. We clearly pick and choose in what righteous cause to involve ourselves. Where is the guiding principle?

Our military is spread too thin already, which helps to explain why Obama wants others to take the lead and describes our expected presence as getting in and getting out. But it’s more than practicality that spurs our ambivalent position. Who are the rebels in Libya anyway? Whose cause are we backing? How many of the rebels are the same ones who joined Al Qaeda and went to Iraq to kill Americans? How many want to replace Gaddafi with an anti-American Islamist state more sympathetic to Iranian interests? Who in the U.S. government has the answers to that? Will we hear those answers tomorrow night?

Barack Obama was the anti-war candidate in 2008. He can’t be happy about who he is now. And we can’t be entirely happy about what he is doing.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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