Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama Speech on Libya: Close, but No Cigar

By Matt Kane

Last night President Obama addressed the nation about the "kinetic military action" in Libya. In his half hour speech he hit on a few points that should have been made more than a week ago in the lead-up to war in Libya. As I discussed in yesterday's podcast, Obama had his work cut out for him thanks to the horrendous and confusing interview that Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates gave over the weekend on Meet the Press.

One thing that I really liked about the speech was that President Obama came right out and said that the United States led the mission in Libya. I was quite frustrated on Sunday when Clinton said that the United States would be joining the international community, as if the U.S. had not been leading the charge in Libya from the word "go."

One phrase kept popping up in the speech that went directly against what Defense Secretary Gates said on Sunday. Obama said that our "values and interests" are at stake in Libya. That simply is not true. Like Gates said on Sunday, Libya is not in America's vital interest. And talk of values will remain empty as long as Guantanamo is open and Bradley Manning continues to be mistreated. It is akin to Newt Gingrich talking about the sanctity of marriage.

Along the same lines, the whole "stain the conscious of the world" rhetoric is just as empty. If every humanitarian crisis necessitated Western intervention a lá Libya, we would see allied forces on nearly every continent. At the very least we would see a large Western force in places like the Sudans, Zimbabwe, Mexico and Belarus, to name a few. It simply is not realistic.

In all fairness, Obama did bring up other countries going through changes that have been met with violence by the ruling regimes. His answer to this? Libya happened at a very specific time with very specific interests (which, for the record, were not listed) and it differs greatly from other places like Yemen or Syria. Without specifics about what makes Libya different, we would have to take Obama's word that American/allied interests in Libya made it more pressing than other civilian tragedies in other Middle Eastern countries. At this point in his presidency, however, only a fool would take Obama at his word.

Finally, Obama hinted that American and allied involvement in Libya will last much longer than anticipated. Even if Qaddafi steps down, Obama said, Libya will need help and support to transition to a truly democratic nation responsive to its people. This open-ended commitment to democracy in Libya should make anyone who has followed the Iraq War very nervous. Obama praised what we have done in Iraq in terms of bringing them democracy, but in reality we still have about 47,000 troops there. He explicitly stated that regime change is not the goal in Libya, but he wants Qaddafi out. Pick a goal and stick to it, Mr. President. You cannot have it both ways.

Obama made a promise similar to the one he made during this year's State of the Union. He said, "Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States." *Offer not applicable in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, China or any other country not meeting an unspecified rubric of the United States Department of Defense and Department of State. Unless those seeking freedom feel buoyed by Secretary Clinton's mumblings about restraint and peaceful dialogue while Libyan rebels get first-class Tomahawk missiles and air support, I do not know how valued American friendship will truly be.

Questions or comments? Leave them in the comment section or email The Second Age: admin(at)thesecondageblog.com.

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