President Obama's decision to bomb Libya is not even so multilateral as President George W. Bush's decision to attack Iraq. Nor is it ultimately driven by humanitarian concerns -- and certainly not by any vital U.S. national interest.
Despite Obama's vilification of Bush for his alleged unilateralism, "Obama's 'coalition of the willing,'" according to foreign policy reporter Josh Rogin, "is smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War." Obama's Libyan intervention is more unilateral than Dubya's in another respect, as well: Obama has brazenly refused even to consult Congress, much less seek its blessing.
As I argued in my most recent column, this is just the foreign policy outworking of Obama's campaign to fundamentally transform America. Notice the common thread. He is using domestic policies to effectuate "economic justice" at home, trying to cut "wealthy" Americans down to size. Now he is using foreign policy to diminish America's role and stature in the international community to cut wealthy, imperialistic America down to size.
I don't want to get bogged down here in a discussion of whether his motive is thus to sabotage America. In my view, that's the effect of his policies, but I suppose that in his view, America will be a better nation if it uses government coercion to come closer to equalizing everyone's share of the pie -- even if it results in the pie's shrinking -- and if America operates less in its own self-interest in foreign affairs. It's a bizarre mindset and one that most Americans probably don't understand -- so bizarre that they don't believe it despite the proof in front of their faces.
Think about it. Obama's secretary of defense, Robert Gates, admitted on national television Sunday that Libya poses no actual or imminent threat to the United States and that it is not a vital national security interest. This was no gaffe. Surely, Obama's team is not so incompetent and undisciplined that it didn't anticipate this question and carefully prepare the answer.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton damaged the administration's credibility even more by opining that as long as international bodies approved of America's kinetic military action, the president didn't even need to pick up the phone to call Congress. Consider what that reveals concerning the administration's mindset about America's sovereignty and prerogatives.
In terms of philosophy, ideology and motivations, the administration's approach to foreign policy can further be understood by Obama's position from the outset. He has been adamant that America is seen as imperialistic by foreign nations, especially Arab and Muslim nations, and must radically reset its image to ingratiate itself to the world community. He believes terrorism is in large part fomented by the world's negative perception of the United States -- a perception he shares to some extent and one he is obsessed with changing.
That's why he went on his world apology tour, threatened (recklessly and unrealistically) to dismantle multiple components of Bush's anti-terror policies (later reneging) and promised to negotiate with dictators on even terms -- "engagement." If you doubt this, then explain Gates' assertions that America's chief interest in Libya is "the engagement of Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans" and, he threw in, "the general humanitarian question."
There's more. In trying to distinguish between the Libyan and Syrian situations, Clinton said the Syrian situation isn't as severe yet. Then she got to the crux of it: "But in Libya, when a leader says 'spare nothing, show no mercy' and calls out air force attacks on his own people, that crosses a line that people in the world had decided they could not tolerate."
As liberal writer William Saletan points out, "the key phrase isn't no mercy or air force. It's they could not tolerate. Not we, but they. We're outsourcing our standards for intervention." But Saletan noted it is "worse than outsourcing." Outsourcing is hiring someone to do your bidding, but in Libya, "we're hiring ourselves out to do what somebody abroad wants." Indeed, one might consider our military the new mercenaries for foreign governments.
If you understand Obama's thinking, it all makes sense. He obviously believes it is in our interests to act in ways that don't fit the conventional definition of national self-interest. In his worldview, our conventional self-interest is selfish and imperialistic. For too long, America has looked out for its own interests and has exploited the world, its people and its resources. With these unrelenting overtures denying our self-interest, Obama hopes to show the world that the new America -- Obama's America -- is different and moral.
In the meantime, we may very well be propping up coalitions of jihadists in both Egypt and Libya and who knows where else, but that's OK because Obama and his fellow liberals have "good intentions."
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