So many of the news headlines from last night's speech noted that President Obama "strongly" or "sharply" defended the military action in Libya. Were the reporters watching the same speech as me? Obama timidly explained something he refused to call a war and gave an address on America's role in protecting the people of the world that was positively Bush-esque.
The president's proclamation of America as an "anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom" could have easily been said by our previous president in regards to Iraq. It's curious, actually, why President Obama didn't support the war in Iraq on those grounds alone. Obama noted that, of course, there are risks and costs attached to using force to solve the world's problems but that "when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act."
Obama did a good job of explaining how our values were at stake: A tyrant was killing his own people, squashing the freedom movement, denying his people basic human rights and America has "responsibility as a leader." Our interests? Obama only said that Gadhafi might have dampened the freedom movement happening in the Middle East and North Africa. Again, Obama's opposition to the Iraq war makes even less sense if he believes a free Middle East is in America's specific interests enough to launch a military attack on a sovereign nation.
At the beginning of the speech, Obama said Gadhafi must go but later admitted the coalition would splinter if we tried to remove him from power.
There is so much wrong with the speech and with Obama's narrow take on America's role in the world. We're in Libya to protect and defend the opposition from slaughter. That's fine, that's a noble goal. But we are not prepared to remove the man doing the slaughtering, we explicitly say there will be no boots on the ground, and we're pretending that America is somehow not in charge of the operation. On the first two counts, can't Gadhafi just wait out the airstrikes and then take his revenge on the rebels?
Obama said "To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq." We did, that's true, we went down that road with Iraq in 1991 when a coalition stopped Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. We defended our ally, just as we're defending the rebels, and then we went home, just as we're planning to do here. The tyrant continued his unabashed killing spree and we spent a decade passing papers around the U.N. and randomly bombing the outskirts of the already-tortured country. The second Iraq war was a direct result of a job unfinished. If Obama wants to learn something from history, and from our situation in Iraq, he would be wise to study Iraq part I.
The president maintains that America is playing some kind of supporting role in this operation, pointing out that we are handing over the reins to NATO and stepping back. Here's what Associated Press Fact Check of Obama's speech, a devastating critique of the speech in its entirety, has to say about that:
"In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically. In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show."
It's political theater. Obama wants to be an international man, the kind that works with allies and gives them a starring role in this war production. The truth is that one Obama term can't undo America's central role as the world's protector. The problem with launching a not-really-a-war-war, and maintaining that the United States isn't in a lead role, is that when it comes time to face the nation and belatedly give the reasoning behind the sort-of war, and report on victories achieved, the president can't very well take credit for the successes.
One paragraph begins with the thought "we should not be afraid to act - but the burden of action should not be America’s alone" and the very next one starts "That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown in Libya." Which one is it? Are we showing leadership or are we following the herd? As Red State's Caleb Howe summed up on twitter: "Obama: I authorized this war that is not a war, which is narrowly focused but broad in scope, so we could lead. As helpers." Exactly.
Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Brooklyn, Karol Markowicz is a public relations consultant in NYC and a veteran of Republican campaigns in four states. She blogs about politics at Alarming News and about life in the city with her husband and baby at 212 Baby. She can be followed on Twitter.