Steve Chapman

Obama could have easily gotten Congress to consent, but he said he didn't have to, because our forces were not taking part in "hostilities." Never mind those drones launching missiles against Libya targets. His own attorney general and other administration lawyers told Obama the war was illegal. He didn't care.

But if Obama was more reckless than Bush about the law, he was more prudent about the mission. The saving grace of this war was minimalism: The United States performed only a supporting role, took no casualties and categorically ruled out ground troops. Obama put the heaviest burden on our allies, and they accepted it.

His approach brings to mind the 1999 Kosovo war, when President Bill Clinton spent 11 weeks bombing Serbia before finally prevailing. It was low-risk, brief and successful. As in Libya, had we failed, we could have bailed out with no major damage.

Contrast that with Iraq, which all along held out the cruel prospect of chaos, civil war, endless occupation and ruinous expense -- which is why President George H.W. Bush chose not to march to Baghdad in the first Iraq war.

Most Americans, it's safe to assume, have no regrets about the Libya war. When it comes to Iraq, they are more apt to echo the country singer Toby Keith's musical lament: "I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."

As it is, American law has been trampled, large sums of money have been torched and our habit of going to war at a moment's notice has been reinforced. But at least we won't have troops fighting Libya for years to come. Obama didn't avoid all the bad choices available to him there. Just the worst one.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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