Libyan apples and Iraqi oranges

A long-time reader writes to point out that the Washington Post’s attack on Marco Rubio (the subject of this post by John) was not the only partisan rant that appeared on the Post’s front page yesterday:

The Rubio story is a credible contender for lame hit-piece of the year. But in the absurd Obama cheerleading category, the Post likely has a runaway winner with its preposterous attempt to exalt the president by contrasting his approach to Libya with George W. Bush’s approach to Iraq in “President Obama points to value of ‘collective action’ in Libya.”

The story, by Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, begins:

Like the U.S. military manhunt for Saddam Hussein, the search for the fugitive dictator Moammar Gaddafi took seven month. He finally popped up, like his Iraqi counterpart, from an inglorious hiding place and is now dead.

The similarities end there.

Truer words have rarely appeared in the Post’s new section. Any non-superficial comparison of the demise of the two tyrants is (as Herman Cain might say) that of “apples to oranges.” One might almost as plausibly compare FDR’s bloody trillion dollar effort to topple Hitler with the first President Bush’s nearly cost-free overthrow of General Noriega in Panama.

Gaddafi’s downfall was the culmination of a revolution in Libya that flowed from a region-wide movement. Saddam’s downfall preceded that movement, and a meaningful revolution in Iraq was out of the question at the time of his overthrow. Thus, his demise could only have been brought about by a massive invasion of outside forces.

But the Post wants to make a different point – one that ignores the fundamental reality set forth above. The Post wishes to show that Obama was able to dispose of the despot Gaddafi far more efficiently than Bush was able to dispose of the despot Saddam:

Both approaches resulted in the removal of longtime U.S. nemeses who had enjoyed a few years in Washington’s favor. But Bush’s invasion cost nearly $1 trillion and more than 4,400 American lives, while Obama’s more limited intervention highlighted a national security strategy that emphasizes global burden-sharing. . . .

“Without putting a single service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives,” Obama said Thursday in a brief Rose Garden appearance.”

The tendentiousness of the Post’s comparison would be jarring even if it appeared on a low-end left-wing blog. As noted above, Obama and Bush were responding (or in Obama’s case, reacting) to radically different circumstances. In Libya, Obama was reacting to a revolution that had produced a civil war. And key European powers had decided that foreign intervention was the proper path. Thus, it was possible to participate in the military action without (1) being at odds with key allies and (2) putting military troops on the ground.

This was not an option in the case in Iraq. Thus, Obama’s Libya approach could not have served “a means to [Saddam’s] demise.” And Bush’s approach to Iraq – the large-scale, America-centric deployment of troops – would almost certainly not have been Bush’s approach to Libya.

It is quite possible, to be sure, that Bush would have acted more forcefully than Obama, thus avoiding some of the bloodshed. And Bush might have opted for some boots on the ground to help influence the post-Gaddafi outcome.

Time will tell whether the absence of such boots is the wisest course. Neither Obama nor his friends at the Post should be high-fiving over that aspect of the president’s policy just yet.


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