Clear as Mud in Libya

Armstrong Williams
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Posted: Mar 29, 2011 11:28 AM

For all those who lathered up over Mr. Bush's "rush to war"...what must they think of Mr. Obama? Whatever you want to say about the rationale for war in Iraq, given its location, oil reserves, and history of invading its neighbors, US vital interests were undeniably at stake. What, please tell me, are the vital interests at stake here that the President avoided like a plague last night? I am anxious to see how the Washington pundits and foreign policy experts score President Obama following his national address. For me, the speech was okay, but it didn’t tell me much as a concerned American citizen.

In typical Obama fashion, the speech was delivered with an adept style, less the Lecturer-in-Chief and more with a forceful emphasis on key points the White House knew it had to make, but that’s where the “good” ends and the questions begin. It’s apparent by Obama’s words that the United States will not forcefully remove Gaddafi from power. Whew. Guess who’s resting easy in Tripoli! Sure, the Obama Administration wants the tyrant tossed. Why else would U.S. warplanes be pounding his military? But dropping a hint and showing him the door are two different things.

It is clear that President Obama has begun an illegal war - and if not illegal, then an unwise and unauthorized one - war on the cheap is not new, and has predictable outcomes. I'm intrigued by how some reporters have actually said counterfactual things like, "allied air power prevented a blood bath." It isn't possible to know what allied air power prevented, we can only observe what it did, how many civilians have died from our trying to protect them? Air power's utility shrinks when the fighting goes urban and none of us can possibly know what's going on there. The air strikes have been limited to the eastern part of Libya, shielding and creating a rebel redoubt without imperiling Gaddafi's power base in western Libya.

Further, I’m baffled why this President is still hung up on “humanitarian” relief and that being part of the reason behind the mission. Did someone from the Nobel Committee phone the Oval Office in recent weeks remind the president there is a return policy on his Peace Prize if he gets too far out there? Come on. The American people know what’s going on here. Qaddafi is running roughshod over the rebels, the United States needed to help. That meant killing as many pro-Qaddafi forces as we could find. To do anything else would send a message to other parts of the world that if you act like Mubarak in Egypt, you lose. If you act like Gaddafi, torturing and killing your own, you win.

Is Obama conflicted here? It was evident to me in the way he spoke.

A week ago the President emphatically stated that Gaddafi must go and last night he contradicted himself by insinuating that the United States would not forcefully remove Gaddafi from power. So why did we declare war on Libya? Will Gaddafi quietly leave Libya with no strings attached, not facing any war tribunal, and live in luxury and enjoy his billions of dollars until death does him part? Again, what was this exercise all about? Mr. President, when you have no overall guiding principles your policies are going to be very inconsistent. Hopefully through this process you're beginning to realize that actually governing and leading is much more difficult than sniping from the sidelines. Not to over-analyze the moment, but why now? And if the speech was so important, why send out your two Cabinet secretaries the day before to soften the media ground? Shouldn’t it be enough for the Press Office to tell the media the President will take it from here? “Just wait 'til Monday…”

I think this White House has a case of “Afghaniraq-itis.” The President is so fearful that this nation could find itself in a third major conflict, he’s tripping over himself to avoid such a scenario. But we won’t. It won’t occur. In fact, I would argue that our conduct in Libya is an example of how to handle the enemy in Iraq, perhaps even Afghanistan. Wage the fights with more stealth-like weaponry and personnel. You don’t need an army to hunt down and take out Al-Qaeda sympathizers and the Taliban leaders. Special Forces can do the trick. But I digress…

The President did his best trying to explain his actions during last night's address but failed miserably. He couldn't and didn't explain his justifications for not bothering to gain authorization from the people's representatives assembled in Congress. He should have, and he didn't', and this escapade doesn't even meet the War Powers Act's less stringent (than the Constitution) requirements for unilateral presidential action.

Listen, this is not the end.

The White House probably raised more questions for the diplomatic community tonight than it answered. I think the President knew that before he gave his address. I hope he did, because the Libyan picture is about as clear as muddy water now, and only the President can clear it up.