Obama’s Goldilocks war: Can the Pres pull off intervention?

 

It is hard to support military action in Libya when the Obama administration cannot clearly define its terms of engagement or its goals. It is even more difficult to not support military action when it has the potential to prevent genocide.

But our actions against Muammar Ghadafi have brought our tally of ongoing military interventions to three.

President Obama has brought another war prospect to our table by leading United States forces in a NATO-led military strike against Ghadafi’s regime in Libya.

After Ghadafi threatened to “cleanse Libya house by house,” Obama forwent Congressional consultation and began launching missiles into Libya. On March 27, Obama defended his decision in a PBS Update: “We’re succeeding in our mission, we’ve taken out Libya’s air defenses. Ghadafi’s forces are no longer advancing across Libya …. because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided, and the lives of countless civilians — innocent men, women and children — have been saved.”

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“Humanitarian catastrophe.” This is, of course, the best of reasons to intervene in another country. But if this is the reason for military action in Libya, why have we not taken action in places that are on the verge of similarly bloody outbreak?

Darfur has been in a state of guerrilla warfare for the past eight years, and there is ongoing repression in Syria. Acting in Libya while giving lip service in other countries tastes like selective morality.

Some have mentioned that a key difference is that, on the whole, many Arab countries wanted Obama to intervene.

A more disconcerting aspect of the action is its timeline. President Obama has made several statements about the duration of this military action in hopes of drawing more support for the engagement. Speaking at a recent press conference in Chile, Obama said, “We anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks.”

Yet, this seems all too familiar, echoing remarks made by former Defense Secretary regarding the 2002 situation known as Iraq, in which we are still entrenched. “Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that,” Rumsfeld said. Try as he may, I fear we could fall into the same trap as our current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Kevin Williamson of the National Review wrote, “We can bomb our enemies into the Stone Age, but we cannot bomb them into the 21st century.” Removing Ghadafi from his tyrannized population leaves us with just that: a tyrannized population. The ultimate question will be whether we can walk away from a military intervention.

Previous administrations established a precedent of creating a vacuum and hoping something good would fill it. We plan to bomb and bolt; we end up bombing and buckling down.

Considering prior war engagements and how they turned out (or didn’t), I am wary of intervention in Libya. Intervening out of a humanitarian ethic is an understandable position, but a noble cause does not excuse our President from creating specific goals within a specific time frame.

The future of any action can never be certain, but it would be comforting as a citizen to have the administration become more explicit about its intentions and predicted outcomes.