President Obama delivered a public statement on the situation in Libya today. His statement displayed the same incoherence that has characterized the administration’s policies on Libya to date.
Obama explained why the U.S. has a vital interest at stake:
Now, here’s why this matters to us. Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue.
The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners.
The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun.
Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.
And that’s why the United States has worked with our allies and partners to shape a strong international response at he United Nations.
Everything Obama listed as a reason for acting now was equally a reason for acting weeks ago–more so, actually. Qaddafi has been left “unchecked,” and he has committed atrocities against his own people. Many have died, and a humanitarian crisis already exists. And if the entire region “could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners,” hasn’t this been true from the beginning?
Having laid out this justification for action, however belatedly, Obama went on to explain that America’s response will be carefully circumscribed:
I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya.
Which means, if you take Obama’s words seriously, that getting rid of Qaddafi is not one of our objectives. If we and our allies had acted two weeks ago, when the rebels were in control of most of Libya, the result almost certainly would have been regime change. It seems likely that acting now will have the effect of freezing the status quo in place, with Qaddafi in control of most of the country. Moreover, if the “well-defined goal” is “the protection of civilians in Libya,” how is that goal to be achieved without any ground forces? The rebels are perhaps outnumbered and certainly outgunned. What part of the U.N.’s response will prevent Qaddafi from taking revenge on his opponents at his leisure?
In his statement today, President Obama proclaimed rather grandiose purposes–not just protecting civilians but averting “destabilization” of the “entire region”–but seemingly did not match those goals with actions or resources equal to the task.
It is also interesting that Obama has made no effort to secure Congressional approval for military action in Libya. I don’t think Congressional approval is constitutionally required, although some disagree. (Andy McCarthy, for example: ” Last time I checked the Constitution, the Security Council doesn’t get to authorize [military operations].”) But, given Obama’s history on Iraq, in particular, the omission seems odd. One wonders what the Left will make of it.