Good morning, political junkies!! Let’s get right to the news.
President Obama gave a speech last night in which he made a pretty good case (IMO) for U.S. limited intervention in Libya. He stated that there were not going to be American boots on the ground and that the U.S. is essentially finished with its part of the operation–it will be up to the UK, France, and Italy to police the no-fly zone and to the Libyan people to depose Gaddafi and decide what comes next.
Surprisingly, Obama was a bit more animated than usual–actually emphasizing points with his voice and at times appearing almost passionate. At least the speech didn’t start to put me to sleep until the last several minutes.
Obama indicated that the U.S. will continue to support efforts to set up a functioning government in Libya, but that will be a non-military effort. If he stands strong with that, I think he’s finally done something I agree with and can support.
Obama also argued that just because we can’t intervene in every conflict doesn’t mean that we should never intervene at all. We have to choose our battles, and in the case of Libya we had a dictator who was using his military–and his air power to kill his own citizens indiscriminately. If he had managed to attack Benghazi he might have murdered hundreds of thousands of people.
Furthermore, Libyans had asked for our help, and our action was supported by other Arab countries and by the Arab League. For once the U.S. was doing something that most Arabs wanted us to do. If we had not acted, we would have seen an atrocity take place, and that would have encouraged dictators in other Arab countries to crack down violently on protesters.
Here is the full text of the speech, if you are interested. I do think Obama went on too long after making the case for Libya. The speech would have been much better if he had done that and then wrapped it up.
I must say, I do not understand the criticisms of this Libya policy that I’m seeing in the progosphere, and from some people here at Sky Dancing. Maybe I’m nuts, but I think the U.S. finally had a chance to do something good with its massive military power and at the same time we get some good PR in a part of the world that has long hated us–with justification because we have enabled most of the tyrants in the region. I’m glad Hillary was able to convince her boss to do the right thing.
I want to call attention to some very knowledgeable people who agree with my assessment–and we do appear to be in the minority.
Thomas Ricks was on Monday’s edition of NPR’s Talk of the Nation. He said that he was struck by how many people either aren’t listening to what Obama, Clinton, and Gates are saying or they are discounting it out of hand.
Ricks said that these three are saying that the U.S. goals in Libya have already been achieved. The rebel forces are knocking on the door of Tripoli, thanks to the no-fly zone and some strategic bombing by the coalition countries. As Obama said last night, it is now up to Libyans to decide what to do with Gaddafi. We aren’t going to try to take him out.
Here’s what Ricks wrote on his blog after his appearance on Meet the Press with Gates and Clinton:
I was on Meet the Press yesterday, following Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates. I was struck at how frequently they emphasized the short-term, limited nature of the U.S. action in Libya, and how they used the past tense to discuss it:
Gates: “I think that the no fly zone aspect of the mission has been accomplished.”
Clinton: “I think we’ve prevented a great humanitarian disaster.”
Gates: “we see our commitment of resources actually beginning to — to decline.”
Gates: “in terms of the military commitment, the president has put some very strict limitations in terms of what we are prepared to do.”
Gates: “I don’t think it’s [Libya] a vital interest for the United States. But we clearly have interests there. And it’s a part of the region, which is a vital interest for the United States.”
I also was struck at how much more assertive Clinton seemed than Gates. A friend of mine calls this “State’s War.”
Ricks also blogged about his take on Obama’s speech: Obama on Libya: Watch out, Saudi Arabia
What we saw in the NDU speech was a logical defense of what the president has ordered the military to do and an exposition of what the limits of the action will be. The cost of inaction threatened to be greater than the cost of action, but now we have done our part. Next role for the U.S. military is best supporting actor, providing electronic jammers, combat search and rescue, logistics and intelligence. That was all necessary, and pretty much as expected.
But I was most struck by the last few minutes of the speech, when Obama sought to put the Libyan intervention in the context of the regional Arab uprising. He firmly embraced the forces of change, saying that history is on their side, not on the side of the oppressors. In doing so he deftly evoked two moments in our own history-first, explicitly, the American Revolution, and second, more slyly, abolitionism, with a reference to “the North Star,” which happened to be the name of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper. If you think that was unintentional, read this.
Hmmm…I totally missed that. Follow me below the fold…