Certainly not a reassuring message to the disparate, disorganized groups of rebels who heard that the U.S. mission they had counted on to save them would be going home, and turning the fight over to the French. That fight won't be over anytime soon, either. The headline over a lengthy Associated Press dispatch Tuesday from Ajdabiya: "Gaddafi's Forces, Libyan Rebels Face Standoff."
The White House said the "hand off," if it ever comes, would go to NATO forces. But opposition from some member countries, including Turkey and Germany, made significant NATO action questionable at best.
Meantime, criticism of Obama's military adventure is growing here at home. Congress was in recess for 10 days, but a number of Democrats voiced angry complaints in a hastily arranged House Democratic Caucus conference call as the bombing began. Many said Obama had "exceeded his constitutional authority" by undertaking the attack before obtaining Congress' approval.
Republican senators made the same complaint, including Richard Lugar of Indiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky. House Speaker John Boehner said the president needed to more fully explain the mission and its objectives to Congress and the American people.
But Obama's strained argument -- that he had not really entered into a war, but was trying to prevent "a humanitarian disaster" -- was embarrassingly thin, if not dishonest. War by its very definition can be a humanitarian action, but bombing a country's army is clearly an act of war. Why does Obama deny that? America is now engaged in four wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya, under an inexperienced president who ran for office criticizing the previous president's "rush to war." A Rasmussen poll earlier this month showed that 63 percent of Americans surveyed wanted the U.S. to stay out of Libya.
But the field of battle that Obama chose to enter is clearly a civil war seeking to topple a despotic ruler that President Reagan once called the "mad dog of the Middle East." Fighting Taliban or al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan is tough enough, but getting into lengthy civil wars that are now sweeping throughout the Middle East is a huge leap into disaster. Let them fight their own wars.
Obama faces a lot of troubling questions about his unexplained actions in Libya, questions that could pester him throughout the 2012 election. Let's see how he argues his way out of this one.