Beinart Analysis: Obama's Libya Speech

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, talks about President Obama's speech last night on Libya and on what the future of American military intervention might be.

Libya's Surprising Alliances Between Liberals and Neo-Cons

Wars make strange bedfellows and the U.S. intervention in Libya has bonded liberal hawks and neo-conservative hawks.

I think for people like Samantha Power and other liberal hawks American power is the only way to in a circumstance like this to prevent genocide or some mass humanitarian slaughter. They want it in the context of the international coalition.

I think for the neo-conservatives, it's not that the humanitarian issues don't matter at all, but I think for them (at the risk of being a little ungenerous) it's more that the humanitarian issue is a vehicle for the expression of American power, and what's important is the expression of American power as a message to our adversaries.

Does Libya Mark the End of Obama's 'Cool as a Cucumber?' Image?

A lot of Obama's foreign policy speeches and his speeches on Afghanistan I think have been weak because you don't feel like he's that emotionally invested in them. I felt listening to this speech that I was struck by how emotionally invested he seemed in this, and that was for me the most important part of it.

Barack Obama's Take on American Exceptionalism

The president is often criticized by the right for not believing that America has a special mission to do good in the world. Beinart feels that contention is bunk. He says Obama certainly believes in American Exceptionalism, the difference is he believes its America's struggle, not America's fate.

Obama, unlike people like Bolton and Bush and Cheney, understands, and is willing to talk about, the dark side of American history. Those guys only talk about America struggling against evil somewhere else, like the Nazis and Communists. He always refers to the civil rights movement which was a struggle against the evil within us. For him I think the intervention in Libya is part of America's capacity to transcend that tendency--the struggle to be different, not the fact that we are inherently different, but the struggle to prove that we can be different, even though we have the same capacity to do evil or be indifferent to evil as anybody else.

Why Libya, and not Ivory Coast or the Congo?

There's nothing wrong with prudence and acknowledging the possible, Beinart said. Success in military intervention has a lot to do with geography, and Libya's proximity to NATO countries made it an attainable goal. More than that, the fact that Tripoli is just miles from France and Italy motivated action, because European leaders were worried about what impact a Libyan genocide would have on their borders.

There will always be terrible, terrible things that happen in the world and it is way beyond America's capacity to stop all of them, particularly in a military sense. So the real world choice is humanitarian intervention never, or humanitarian intervention occasionally. Humanitarian intervention always, to stop every humanitarian slaughter, is simply never going to be in this world a possibility.

Does America intervene on the basis of a grim calculus, or do we intervene because it's the right thing to do?

A president must be honest with himself.

The truth of the matter is Americans are not willing to sacrifice many American lives for humanitarian interventions where our security is not at stake. That's just fact. Look at what happened in Somalia. When America went into Somalia to save people from dying and we lost 18 American marines the cries for pulling out immediately became deafening. That is the political backdrop between Obama's unwillingness to send in American ground troops. Does that make us an immoral people? You can make your own decision about that, but if you're going to say something like that you have to think about you'd be willing to sign up an volunteer for a mission like that.


Peter Beinart


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Comments [29]



Actually, Longspree, this is to you and all of your white trash friends: Stop using little nicknames for Obama. Just call him Obama. I have no idea what your talking about when you do that. I actually tried looking up Obeyme or whatever because I had no clue what you were trying to say. The worst part is that when I do figure out what you are talking about, it isn't funny! Try harder, I obviously know that your Master's degree isn't in comedy, but you can do better.

By the way, all of your points are invalid and essentially false. There is only room for one lunatic idiot pundit, his name is Glenn Beck. Go post on his board so intelligent conversation can stay here.

Mar. 31 2011 06:18 PM

Somebody wrote, ( Gary) i suppose to make a point, "AND YOU SIR, ARE AN IDIOT." How profund. Then comment after implying that the intellectual conception that some day the state of Israel might not exist as we knew it is similar to a crime. That person must not know about freedom of speech or the lessons of history that have shown states do come and go , sometime for the betterment of humanity, sometimes because of their own inability to adapt and the errors they make. There will not be peace in that region until, following the model we created in USA, all the various countries in the middle east form "a
more perfect union" inclusive of all religious and ethnics representation. Obama is slowly drifting away from the mandate he was given.. He should have the decency to return his nobel prize , but again , as the Chinese may tell you, that prize is mostly payback for pandering to the prize giver.

Mar. 30 2011 01:17 AM

last night BAM desperately tried to look like a true leader - but we know the woman he has surrounded himself with, probably had a heavier hand and headier perspective than his harvard professor, contitutional-law, views.
this man thinks the Oval Office is a launching pad for back-bending compromise - this after really, truly, unobjectively, painting himself as an agent of "Hope and Change."
BAM has lost his grip on governing this nation. Glad he (still) has the Clintons by his side - for now.
I agree with Giuliani, Hillary would have been a better choice for the American ppl - but, go figure, the American ppl chose "Hope" and "Change." GOOD CHOICE!

Mar. 29 2011 09:17 PM
robert longspree from NYC/Sarasota, Fl

Obeyme's friends in the media are trying like the dickens to create an Obama Doctrine.

Here is an outline of the Obama Doctrine:

1. Dither for a week. Vacation, smile a lot, play soccer with some kid from Brazil.

2. Allow Hillary, Rice and Susan Power to take the lead with Omardaffi.

3. State the policy.
A.Omardaffi has got to go.
B. Just kidding. He can stay.

4. Go to the U.N. get permission to attack Libya.

5. Get the Arab League to give you the go ahead.

6. By pass the U.S. Congress.

7. Diss the Constitution of United States.

8. Give the explanation one week after hostilities has began.

A. Use the personal pronoun "I" as many times as possible.

B. Work in "Bush and Iraq."

9. Turn the matter over to someone else, anyone else and run for the hills.

10. Do not refer to the conflict as a war. If pressed, call the thingie a Kinetic War. The stupid idiots in the media will shallow the thing hook, line and sinker. Baghdad Bob in Delaware will speak the talking points.

11. Don't let them see you sweat. Stay cool. Keep focused on hoops, golf, Kobe steaks and November of 2012.

12. Plan a party for all reporters who tow the line. Closets for those who offend me.

This sums up the Obama Doctrine.

Laffing my tall rear end off at this reincarnation of Seth Pecksniff.

Mar. 29 2011 07:15 PM
Nick from Kingdom of New Jersy

Man this is heated! I like it though, this is healthy.

I think you guys are missing a couple of important general knowledge tidbits of info:

1. Oil Companies LOVE dictators! Especially ones like Gaddaffi who like hot chicks and partying. They are easily and often bribed, and this makes business and profits flow wonderfully. Trust me, Gaddaffi does not have any interest in turning oil production, in his country, into a legit business anytime soon.

2. Gaddafi is a murderer, and do not scoff at him when he says things like "I'm going to kill every last person in Benghazi." He wasn't blowin smoke! I think the people of Libya, Benghazi especially, will look back and thank us for years to come for that one.

3. This is expensive, yes, but it is a pimple on an elephant compared to Afghanistan and Iraq. We can't blindly turn our eyes because our previous President thought it would be a good idea to start TWO wars of attrition.

4. Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Ivory Coast are all a mess too. They need help. The Ivory Coast is essentially being run by NGOs right now and is becoming curiouser and curiouser as the days pass. Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain are also a mess, and what is most frightening about them is the lack of news that is being generated in these areas. How can we help them too without upseting our VIP Lunatics in the region, the Saudis? We piss them off, and we have a problem. If the Saudis decided to halt oil production, we could be looking at another Great Depression, so we have to tread lightly with them. Complex entanglment of alliances. Not a time to be foolhearty!

Mar. 29 2011 03:24 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ gary from queens

What? Why would Brian invite you on the show? What "campaign" are you talking about? With respect, you seem somewhat delusional.

As for your "views", well they aren't your views, are they? You've uncritically appropriated your neocon heroes' views' and now they're "yours"?

I'd be much more interested to hear YOUR unfiltered thoughts on this matter, I'm sure it'd make for compelling reading. I'm not trying to be a jerk (really) but when you "paste" a whole chunk of text from some professional hit piece it just seems defensive, lazy and is ultimately irrelevant - you're not changing anyone's mind, this is just feedback after all. If anybody wants to read the National Review they can just go to that website, so link to it if you have to but spare the rest of us from having to scan past it just to get to the REAL listener comments. Thanks.

Mar. 29 2011 01:01 PM
Gary from queens


You write: "It wasn't like Gaza had their own Air Force."

Israel just intercepted 60 tons of sophisticated missiles being smuggled into Gaza! Using the very blockade you consider inhumane! How many Israeli lives had been saved by that?!

OH WAIT, Jewish lives don't matter! Because Israel has an air force and Hamas does not!! Let's give Hamas some planes to make the war even and fair!!! YES, that's the solution, because this war against the jews just has not gone on long enough. We need to extend it another 60 years----TO BE FAIR TO BOTH SIDES!!!

Grad rockets can take out city blocks. Other deadly rockets are flying into israeli towns now, to accomplish the Hamas Charter to erradicate the Jewsih state.


Mar. 29 2011 12:41 PM
gary from queens


Qaddafi learned a lesson after Saddam was toppled. He said so, and gave up his nukes to avoid Saddam's fate. But granted, some nations are motivated by religious zeal (jihad), and are not deterred. Iran will not be deterred from a nuck attack on Israel or US. North Korea would----if they knew we meant it.

On copy and pasting. My views are well represented and best articulated by people devoted to this stuff full time. I've posted links to my articles on occassion too. But Brian will never invite me on the show. My campaign----as Brian knows by now----is to get him to invite the likes of Andrew C. McCarthy, Caroline Glick, Robert Spencer, etc.

I thought you agreed on that in your previous post: The efficacy of getting counterpoint on this program?

Mar. 29 2011 12:13 PM
DTorres from Nathan Straus

Afghanistan, Iraq, now Libya.

We keep on flying our F16's over Muslim Nations, killing their people,
with one excuse or another.

What is it that they have that we are after so badly?

If it's the oil, why not make a deal with them for the oil.

Buy the damn oil!

We have been on a roll attacking Islamic Countries.

Enough is enough already.

We keep getting lied to as to the reasons
why we keep on killing Muslims.
Iraq was never a threat to the us.
Syria is not a threat to us.

Why didn't we stop Israel from
bombing Gaza, dropping white phosphorus and committing all
those atrocities during Operation
Cast Lead?
It wasn't like Gaza had their own
Air Force.

It was our bombs that Israel was using.

If 9/11 was Osama Bin Laden, go after him.

Where is he?

Mar. 29 2011 12:08 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ gary from queens

Stop cutting and pasting, if you don't have your own thought just post a link, or paraphrase, it makes the comments pointless.

Mar. 29 2011 11:53 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ gary from queens

"America is teaching the lesson that the best way to avoid the attentions of whimsical “liberal interventionists” is to get yourself an easily affordable nuclear program from Pyongyang or anywhere else as soon as possible."

Yeah, except that doing precisely that WILL also ensure you get knocked off before you get near operational. A nuclear program requires a certain amount of tech expertise and money, what "3rd world" dictator has access to the kind of $ Qaddafi did or Iran does? None, nada, zip. Chavez may have the $ (debatable) but he is in our backyard and we have plenty of ways to get to him if necessary. I'm not saying loose nukes aren't possible, hell they are inevitable, but that is more of a justification for military action than avoiding it.

Finally, we don't "teach lessons" to other nations, outside of the dimwitted states everyone knows the score, and they play the same game back.

Mar. 29 2011 11:51 AM
gary from queens

Andrew C. McCarthy
March 26, 2011 4:00 A.M.

Decoding Libya
Sharia can tell us how this story ends.

This must be the 5th column from him that I posted on Libya. In light of the silence from libs here, I will assume they agree that obama erred on Libya.
But Andy goes further than liberal isolationists. He states that Obama is aiding our jihadist enemies in doing this.

So the question for you guys is this: is Obama a complete fool, or secretly supports the formation of shariah states?

There is no third option. Do not say it's humanitarianism. There are thousands more muslims getting killed by their regimes now, as we speak. protesting even, as opposed to taking up arms. Where are the no fly zones there? In syria for example, in which the government sponsors terrorism NOW, as opposed to Qaddafi's PAST history of it. Indeed, as Andy describes, the islamist rebels are attacking him BECAUSE they consider Qaddafi an apostate.

So, is Obama a naive idiot, or an islamist? I am open-minded and will accept either one.

Mar. 29 2011 11:43 AM
gary from queens

Mark Steyn (march 26):

Libya, in that sense, is a classic post-nationalist, post-modern military intervention: As in Kosovo, we’re do-gooders in a land with no good guys. But, unlike Kosovo, not only is there no strategic national interest in what we’re doing, the intended result is likely to be explicitly at odds with U.S. interests. A quarter-century back, Qaddafi was blowing American airliners out of the sky and murdering British policewomen: That was the time to drop a bomb on him. But we didn’t. Everyone from the government of Scotland (releasing the “terminally ill” Lockerbie bomber, now miraculously restored to health) to Mariah Carey and Beyoncé (with their million-dollar-a-gig Qaddafi party nights) did deals with the Colonel.


Alternatively, suppose Qaddafi winds up hanging from a lamppost in his favorite party dress. If you’re a Third World dictator, what lessons would you draw? Qaddafi was the thug who came in from the cold, the one who (in the wake of Saddam’s fall) renounced his nuclear program and was supposedly rehabilitated in the chancelleries of the West. He was “a strong partner in the war on terrorism,” according to U.S. diplomats. And what did Washington do? They overthrew him anyway.

The blood-soaked butcher next door in Sudan is the first head of state to be charged by the International Criminal Court with genocide, but nobody’s planning on toppling him. Iran’s going nuclear with impunity, but Obama sends fraternal greetings to the “Supreme Leader” of the “Islamic Republic.” North Korea is more or less openly trading as the one-stop bargain-basement for all your nuke needs, and we’re standing idly by. But the one cooperative dictator’s getting million-dollar-a-pop cruise missiles lobbed in his tent all night long. If you were the average Third World loon, which role model makes most sense? Colonel Cooperative in Tripoli? Or Ayatollah Death-to-the-Great-Satan in Tehran? America is teaching the lesson that the best way to avoid the attentions of whimsical “liberal interventionists” is to get yourself an easily affordable nuclear program from Pyongyang or anywhere else as soon as possible.

Mar. 29 2011 11:41 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ David from West Hempstead

Duh, maybe because they're are allies? Like NATO, our MILITARY ALLIANCE with "those guys"... derp derp derp.

@ gary from queens

We don't need to intervene in Syria, we have Israel for that.

Mar. 29 2011 11:37 AM
Mike from Tribeca

It might come as a surprise to some Americans to discover that Libya is not in what we Westerners call the "Middle East." It is in North Africa.

Mar. 29 2011 11:35 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ rick from new york

"in short the idea that we go into wars for humanitarian reasons is a lie- whether samantha powers knows it or not."

Precisely. This sort of discussion about whether Obama did this for the right reasons or not, how he justifies it, etc. just strikes me as so appallingly childish and absurdly naive that I literally have to turn the radio off - PLEASE let's elevate the level of analysis beyond the nightly news propaganda.

Brian: If you can't take a more critical view of mass media for purposed of broadening your listenership (is that a word?) than just find some smarter guests, try not getting them from cr*ppy blogs like Huffpo and daily beast where the discarded flotsam and jetsam of pro journalism gather to eek out a pathetic existence regurgitating US PR releases.

Mar. 29 2011 11:35 AM
gary from queens

The discrimination that Kurds have faced under Assad and his father is appalling. Since the 1970s, more than 300,000 Kurds have been stripped of their Syrian citizenship. They have been forcibly ejected from their homes and villages in the north and resettled in squalid refugee camps in the south. The expressed purpose of these racist policies has been to prevent territorial contiguity between Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds and to “Arabize” Syrian Kurdistan where most of Syria’s oil deposits are located.

under the Obama administration the US will not lift a finger to support Syrian regime opponents. In media interviews Sunday, not only did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rule out the use of force to overthrow Assad, as his troops were killing anti-regime protesters, Clinton went so far as to praise Assad as “a reformer.”

Peter agrees with that?!

Mar. 29 2011 11:32 AM
Amalene from NJ

Barack Obama can't do anything right for some people. The thing I like most about this President is that he is so unlike any other leader the US has seen in a long time. Whatever happens I think his leadership can only be seen as a good thing for America.

Mar. 29 2011 11:28 AM
gary from queens

I can't believe he just said Syria is not in our interests to intervene?!

Assad has a large stockpile of chemical weapons including Sarin gas and blister agents. In February 2009 Jane’s Intelligence Review reported that the Syrians were working intensively to expand their chemical arsenal. Based on commercial satellite imagery, Jane’s’ analysts concluded that Syria was expending significant efforts to update its chemical weapons facilities. Analysts claimed that Syria began its work upgrading its chemical weapons program in 2005 largely as a result of Saddam Hussein’s reported transfer of his chemical weapons arsenal to Syria ahead of the US-led invasion in 2003.

The Jane’s report also claimed that Assad’s men had built new missile bays for specially adapted Scud missiles equipped to hold chemical warheads at the updated chemical weapons sites.

As for missiles, with North Korean, Iranian, Russian, Chinese and other third-party assistance, Syria has developed a massive arsenal of ballistic missile and advanced artillery capable of hitting every spot in Israel and wreaking havoc on IDF troop formations and bases.

Beyond its burgeoning unconventional arsenals, Assad is a major sponsor of terrorism. He has allowed Syria to be used as a transit point for al-Qaida terrorists en route to Iraq. Assad’s Syria is second only to Iran’s ayatollahs in its sponsorship of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders live in Damascus. As Hezbollah terror commander Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination in Damascus in February 2008 exposed, the Syrian capital serves as Hezbollah’s operational hub. The group’s logistical bases are located in Syria.

Mar. 29 2011 11:28 AM
David from West Hempstead

So the determining factor of which crises merit humanitarian intervention is their proximity to Europe?

Let them handle it, then.

Mar. 29 2011 11:27 AM
david from ditmas park

I think Lybia as opposed to other places where human atrocities are rampant because it's in the middle east, where there is an american interest to have a presence or appear like a friend. Oil was the reason we went into Iraq and it's the reason we are acting in's the basic motivation of this...whatever it is...war i guess. There is also a humanitarian motivation, but that is secondary...

Mar. 29 2011 11:25 AM
geo from Astoria

We are very lucky to have a man of this caliber as our President. Speeches like the one last night prove it again. We need to silence the politic's of hate and fear and allow America to progress again, allow our president to help us acheive our true potential as rightful heirs to the American Dream.

Mar. 29 2011 11:25 AM
rick from new york

the hypocrisy is that we are implicated in other slaughters- like operation cast lead in gaza (by israel with us weaponry)- and that we tacitly approved recently of troop movements from saudi to bahrain, which were used to kill protesters.

in short the idea that we go into wars for humanitarian reasons is a lie- whether samantha powers knows it or not.

Mar. 29 2011 11:24 AM
Tony from Canarsie

I support the president, but the last thing I want is a leader who is, as your guest put it positively, "emotionally invested" in a foreign civil war. What does "emotionally invested" even mean? Sounds more like something that's taught at the Actors Studio than anything to do with decision-making.

Mar. 29 2011 11:23 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Please, let's just stop being so naive, shall we? The short history is this:

1) Qaddafi was slow to put down the rebellion so Europe jumped on the Rebel train, wrongly thinking Qaddafi's would fold or the Rebels would be capable of taking him out.Both assumptions were wrong

2) Now Qaddafi is an enemy again, but with many euro oil companies (especially brit) on the hook as well as European political credibility on the line and the prospect of a newly paranoid Qaddafi professionalizing his armed forces, rearming and possibly even restarting a clandestine nuke and/or terrorist program.

3) Now he has to go, so here we are, everything else is just talk. Qaddafi is toast, a matter of time.

Mar. 29 2011 11:19 AM
Bernard from Bronx

After listening to President Obama's speech on Libya, I am left with this conclusion: America will intervene not necessarily when it's morally right but when there is little danger to us from the country we are invading or interfering with.
Therefore any country listening to him would certainly want to arm themselves in such a way as to prevent American interference.

Mar. 29 2011 11:19 AM
David from West Hempstead

One further thing: an AC-130 has nothing to do with enforcing a no-fly-zone.

Mar. 29 2011 11:08 AM
David from West Hempstead

It doesn't seem like there's any morally significant difference between neoconservatism and liberal interventionism. If the question of when we intervene in the private affairs of another country is merely a question the scale of the relevant atrocity, I don't see how that translates into anything resembling "moral leadership."

Mar. 29 2011 11:06 AM
Karen from NYC

I'm an Obama supporter and, in general, an opponent of using military force to achieve political goals, particularly in the Mid-east. My question regarding Libya, however, remains as follows: What can we or NATO hope to achieve if we do not take Quaddafi out? I don't see a "no-fly" zone as a long-term solution to the political turmoil and human rights violations in Libya. Indeed, atrocities are being reported even as Sec. Clinton tells the UN that they have been prevented. In other words, this action does not seem capable of achieving its announced goal of preventing wide scale human rights violations. Although I'm usually strongly opposed to military action, I have to say that, frankly, I think that only solution to the human rights crisis in Libya is to drop a bomb -- on Quadaffi.

Mar. 29 2011 11:06 AM

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