Streams

A Convoluted Speech About a Convoluted War

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 10:39 AM

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 BabyShe can be followed on Twitter.

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Comments [7]

Harrison Bergeron from Fair Lawn NJ

Karol: "We focused so much on being liked and not being criticized by the world that killing terrorists became not a priority".

Justin: "What have our forces been prevented from doing which would have been good for our efforts in those countries? What different latitude could they have been given, and to what end".

The root of the problem is that historically, military forces have existed for only one reason: to subdue anyone you point them towards. That mostly means killing the other guys until those who are still alive surrender unconditionally. Unfortunately, as an adjunct to that activity, other people who want nothing to do with it get killed also. For example, consider Dresden during WW2.

We are at a transitional point in human history, where the Western militaries at least, are expected to play a different kind of roll. They are expected to conduct the diplomacy that the diplomats failed at. Only with people shooting at them. And far away from their homes and families for long periods of time. And for a lot less money than the characters in Washington who sent them to fight, or to make friends with those far-away people, or to figure out what's going on over there, or for who knows what anyway?

P.S.: Karol, someone is playing a joke on you. Harrison Bergeron is a character in a story by Kurt Vonnegut Jr..

Mar. 30 2011 10:19 PM
Karol from NYC

Haha, awesome, Justin. Don't try to break my perfect record!

I know a lot of military people who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The stories they tell is of hands tied behind their backs. We focused so much on being liked and not being criticized by the world that killing terrorists became not a priority. Remember when we didn't attack a funeral of a Taliban member, even though it was attended by Al-Qaeda and Taliban people, because it violated our rules of engagement. The other side is willing to blow up their own children and women to kill us. Our rules of engagement prevent us from fighting a real war, the kind that was necessary to actually win.

Mar. 30 2011 11:27 AM
Justin Krebs from NYC

Karol -

Don't want to break up your unprecedented run of affirming comments, but...

You wrote:
"I think that has been the problem with Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops have their hands tied and never fought a real war over there."

Can you explain in further depth? What have our forces been prevented from doing which would have been good for our efforts in those countries? What different latitude could they have been given, and to what end?

By the way, since I'm challenging something you said in the comments section, you can still consider the comments on your post itself 2-for-2.

Mar. 29 2011 11:33 PM
Karol from NYC

Thanks, Harrison. I think 2/2 comments agreeing with me is a record for me on A Free Country. :-)

Mar. 29 2011 07:22 PM
Harrison Bergeron from Fair lawn NJ

Karol: that's common sense analysis.

President Obama: "no boots on the ground".
It is worse than naive to make public any part of your military strategy.

President Obama: "when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act."
Meaning our addiction to petrol. At this same moment in history, Saudi troops are in Bahrain to control that uprising.
Saudi Arabia = petrol.
Bahrain = US Navy fleet base.

Karol: "It's political theater".
Sure. But isn't all politics (as conducted in public) theater?

Someone please correct me where this seems wrong:
We have a guiding document called the Constituion. Among other things, it assigns to the Congress only, the power to call up the military. That can only be changed by a Constituional ammendment -- which has not occurred.
A general law that gives the President "war powers" at his discretion is a typical too-many-lawyers-in-congress work-around that allows them to shirk their decision-making responsibilty. Also, since our legal system often employs precedents, a bad precedent, like our involvement in Viet Nam, can be used as justification for more bad military engagements.

"advocate for human freedom"
That's hypocrisy.

Mar. 29 2011 06:21 PM
Karol from NYC

"There's far too much pussyfooting around when it comes to the use of US military force"

I completely agree with this. I think that has been the problem with Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops have their hands tied and never fought a real war over there.

Mar. 29 2011 01:38 PM
Gregory Sadler

I'm in full agreement with you -- while not particularly impressed with this guy who lacked any foreign policy experience, but who took pretty clear stands back before he became president -- I'd be quite happy if he'd actually bite the bullet, make some decisions, stand by them -- in short stick to a principle and actually lead.

There's far too much pussyfooting around when it comes to the use of US military force in (more or less) good causes -- and in what they require. That was manifestly the case in Iraq 1, a problem with Iraq 2 (e.g. waiting around before going into Fallujah), and yes in the current Libya commitment.

I'm actually an interventionist myself, and see removing brutal tyrants, liberating people from oppressive regimes, and promoting (at least somewhat more) democratic societies in the Middle East and North Africa as positive goods. It appeared that perhaps Obama did so himself, but he's unfortunately failed to live up to his own campaign rhetoric -- at least so far.

Mar. 29 2011 01:06 PM

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