"The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions." --American statesman and Senator Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
Monday night President Obama took to the airwaves to rebut the criticism and confusion surrounding his decision to send U.S. troops to Libya.
It was an interesting speech, but a lame attempt to make the Libyan circumstances seem unique to his presidency.
President Obama's biggest challenge was to attempt to step up to the podium and somehow convince the American people of an idea that even his own Defense Secretary refused to go along with when given the chance to do so on Sunday. (On every network except Fox.)
As the first Tomahawk missiles rained on Libya, armchair generals rushed to define "The Obama Doctrine." Most assessments focused on Obama's antiwar statements as a candidate and decisions by past presidents to take military action in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
By that I mean his supreme confidence in his own vision and powers to remake the world. Fueled by a mixture of hubris and faculty-lounge idealism, his words and actions suggest he believes his presidency is exempt from the lessons of history and human nature. The Obama Doctrine Is All About Obama. In Monday night’s address to the American people Obama used the personal pronoun “I” 25 times.
Just as he claimed his election would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," his wars defy traditional military doctrine. For example, his approach in Libya, as in Afghanistan, features a promise of timed withdrawal, but not a clear mission. In both he talks of "success" but not "victory," leaving the yardstick vague. The refusal to be precise reflects a belief that his intentions are virtuous, as distinct from his predecessors', and that he should be judged on that basis, not on results. His goal in Libya is so abstract that he refuses to call it a "war." That would make it sound brutal — and ordinary. We thus meet the term "kinetic military action" as a White House talking point.
Despite the endless efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and despite objections from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other brass, the president was confident that Libya would be easy in, easy out and that a civil war in an oil-rich tribal nation would be settled in days. After bypassing Congress and the public to cut a deal at the United Nations, we could fire missiles from ships at sea, drop bombs from 30,000 feet and be home in time for dinner.
It would be so surgical, the commander in chief could take his family on a trip to Brazil and points south while the military went into battle. We wouldn't need a single boot on the ground and could hand command to NATO or France or anybody who wanted it.
Obama neglected to mention the 2,000 U.S. Marines already on station in the Gulf of Sidra or the 2,200 Marines that are being deployed to support the NATO effort. He also made no mention of the special operations troops already in Libya calling in the air strikes and gathering intelligence for a possible deployment of U.S. ground forces into the fray.
Meanwhile, after 42 years in power, a brutal and mad Muammar Gaddafi would see our righteousness, lay down his weapons and quit his throne. Presto, that's how a just war should end, and this time it would — because of Obama.
The president’s speech Monday night left more questions than it gave answers. He talked a lot about how and why we got involved in Libya, but said almost nothing about how we get out. But two things do seem clear:
We could be doing more of these humanitarian interventions in the future, and we’re going to be involved in Libya for a long time.
The president made the case for involving American forces on humanitarian grounds and because our allies and Libya’s neighbors asked us, and the U.N. endorsed it. He said we couldn’t get involved every time a situation like this happens in the future, but that begs the question of why not if the same conditions exist? Why Libya but not Sudan, or the Ivory Coast, or Syria or even Iran?
The president announced that we would be turning the operations over to NATO in a few days but frankly, this is a distinction without a difference. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander is an American Admiral on the short list to be our next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. NATO may be in charge going forward, but as long as we’re responsible for communications, logistics, intelligence, search and rescue we remain the backbone of the Libyan War. If the contrast drags on, so will our involvement.
So when do we leave? Despite what President Obama said, we still don’t know because there is no defined end state or conditions which must be met for us to go home.
So let's fill in the blanks and hypothesize how this might end. It boils down to two possible scenarios: Gaddafi goes or Gaddafi stays. Either way we’re there for a long time.
The good scenario – that Gaddafi goes – could unfold in a number of ways. He’s assassinated, he's killed as ‘collateral damage’ in a bombing raid, he’s abandoned by the Libyan military, his sons desert him, or he’s forced out by the rebels. This scenario could unfold quickly, or after a prolonged fight involving somebody’s boots on the ground, and building and arming a rebel military.
The bad scenario – that Gaddafi stays – could also happen in a number of ways. Gaddafi flees, goes underground and organizes and insurgency, Iraq style. Or Gaddafi hangs on to western Libya, and the rebels keep the east, and Libya is split in two with the peace enforced by an outside military force. Or there is a possibility that Gaddafi manages to hang on, offering amnesty to the rebels, and starting down the road to reform — until the coalition loses interest, goes home and Gaddafi goes back to his evil ways.
With either the good or the bad scenario, America is likely to be involved in Libya for a good while. In the good scenario we will either be nation-building, albeit in a secure environment. In the bad scenario, we stay involved militarily fighting Gaddafi, building and arming the rebels.
If there is one thing we should have learned in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts: this is a part of the world where they don’t think of peace as an end state; they tend to see it merely as a lull in the fighting.
Here are a few of the Facts Obama either neglected to mention or was less than honest about. You can read the entire list by clicking here.
OBAMA: "Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and no-fly zone. ... Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gaddafi's remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role."
THE FACTS: As by far the pre-eminent player in NATO, and a nation historically reluctant to put its forces under operational foreign command, the United States will not be taking a back seat in the campaign even as its profile diminishes for public consumption.
NATO partners are bringing more into the fight. But the same "unique capabilities" that made the U.S. the inevitable leader out of the gate will continue to be in demand. They include a range of attack aircraft, refueling tankers that can keep aircraft airborne for lengthy periods, surveillance aircraft that can detect when Libyans even try to get a plane airborne, and, as Obama said, planes loaded with electronic gear that can gather intelligence or jam enemy communications and radars.
The United States supplies 22 percent of NATO's budget, almost as much as the next largest contributors — Britain and France — combined. A Canadian three-star general was selected to be in charge of all NATO operations in Libya. His boss, the commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples, is an American admiral, and the admiral's boss is the supreme allied commander Europe, a post always held by an American.
NATO has declared it will delay in taking command of the Libyan operation while UN Ambassador Susan Rice is contemplating arming the rebels. This would be in direct contradiction to UN resolution 1973.
OBAMA: "Our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives."
THE FACTS: Even as the U.S. steps back as the nominal leader, reduces some assets and fires a declining number of cruise missiles, the scope of the mission appears to be expanding and the end game remains unclear.
Despite insistences that the operation is only to protect civilians, the airstrikes now are undeniably helping the rebels to advance. U.S. officials acknowledge that the effect of air attacks on Gaddafi's forces — and on the supply and communications links that support them — is useful if not crucial to the rebels. "Clearly they're achieving a benefit from the actions that we're taking," Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday.
The Pentagon has been turning to air power of a kind more useful than high-flying bombers in engaging Libyan ground forces. So far these have included low-flying Air Force AC-130 and A-10 attack aircraft, and the Pentagon is considering adding armed drones and helicopters.
Obama said, "We continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people," but spoke of achieving that through diplomacy and political pressure, not force of U.S. arms.
OBAMA: Seeking to justify military intervention, the president said the U.S. has "an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful -- yet fragile -- transitions in Egypt and Tunisia." He added: "I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America."
THE FACTS: Obama did not wait to make that case to Congress, despite his past statements that presidents should get congressional authorization before taking the country to war, absent a threat to the nation that cannot wait.
"The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation," he told The Boston Globe in 2007 in his presidential campaign. "History has shown us time and again that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch."
Obama's defense secretary, Robert Gates, said Sunday that the crisis in Libya "was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest."
OBAMA: "And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gaddafi's deadly advance."
THE FACTS: The weeklong international barrage has disabled Libya's air defenses, communications networks and supply chains. But Gaddafi's ground forces remain a potent threat to the rebels and civilians, according to U.S. military officials.
Army Gen. Carter Ham, the top American officer overseeing the mission, told The New York Times on Monday that "the regime still overmatches opposition forces militarily. The regime possesses the capability to roll them back very quickly. Coalition air power is the major reason that has not happened."
Only small numbers of Gaddafi's troops have defected to the opposition, Ham said.
At the Pentagon, Vice Adm. Gortney said the rebels are not well organized. "It is not a very robust organization," he said. "So any gain that they make is tenuous based on that.
Just today the rebels have been driven back. AP reported; “Rebels retreated from the key Libyan oil port of Ras Lanouf along the coastal road leading to the capital Tripoli after they came under heavy shelling from Qaddafi ground forces.
Qaddafi's forces were shelling Brega, another important oil city to the east. A rebel soldier, Col. Abdullah Hadi, said he expected the loyalists to enter Brega by Wednesday night.
"I ask NATO for just one aircraft to push them back. All we need is air cover and we could do this. They should be helping us," Hadi said.
NATO planes flew over the zone where the heaviest fighting was under way earlier Wednesday and an Associated Press reporter at the scene heard explosions, but it was unclear whether any airstrikes hit the area. U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Clint Gebke, a spokesman for the NATO operation aboard the USS Mount Whitney, said he could not confirm any specific strikes but Western aircraft were engaging pro-Qaddafi forces in areas including Sirte and Misrata, the rebels' last significant holdout in western Libya.
The retreat Wednesday looked like a mad scramble: Pickup trucks, with
OBAMA: "Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."
THE FACTS: Mass violence against civilians has also been escalating elsewhere, without any U.S. military intervention anticipated.
More than 1 million people have fled the Ivory Coast, where the U.N. says forces loyal to the incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, have used heavy weapons against the population and more than 460 killings have been confirmed of supporters of the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara.
The Obama administration says Gbagbo and Qaddafi have both lost their legitimacy to rule. But only one is under attack from the U.S.
Presidents typically pick their fights according to the crisis and circumstances at hand, not any consistent doctrine about when to use force in one place and not another. They have been criticized for doing so — by Obama himself.
In his pre-presidential book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama said the U.S. will lack international legitimacy if it intervenes militarily "without a well-articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands."
He questioned: "Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene in Bosnia and not Darfur?"
So the Obama Doctrine, the Doctrine of “I”, appears to be confusing at best and downright disingenuous at the worst.
You can read a more detailed article on American Spectator by clicking here