American Elephants

Obama’s Core Principles, as Proclaimed From a Latin Tour Press Conference. by The Elephant's Child

President Obama, touring Latin America, has noticed that there is a kerfuffle here at home about his belated actions regarding the situation in Libya. At a press conference in Chile today, he said:

The core principle that has to be upheld here is that when the entire international community, almost unanimously, says that there is a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people, that we can’t simply stand by with empty words, that we have to take some sort of action. I think it’s also important to note that the way that the U.S. took leadership and managed this process ensures international legitimacy and ensures that our partners, members of the international coalition, are bearing the burden of following through on the mission as well. Because, as you know, in the past there have been times when the United States acted unilaterally or did not have full international support, and as a consequence typically it was the United States military that ended up bearing the entire burden.

Obama is trying desperately to cover all bases and yet not get blamed.  Americans don’t like humanitarian crises. Our basic instinct is probably that somebody should step in and do something. We are partial to underdogs, people who are being brutalized or killed, the bullied, cute animals and babies. The problem is that there are a great many brutal regimes in the world who are not treating their people well.

The nations of Europe are largely indignant that the United States is so reluctant, and want the Americans to take care of the problem so that they can criticize America for intervening and have anti-war demonstrations. They wanted ‘multilateralism’ but now that they’ve got it, they don’t like that either.

Assorted Democrats are indignant to varying degrees. Chris Matthews says that “the American people deserve to know why we’re at war.” Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) said that obviously “we’re in Libya because of oil.” …and our dependence on foreign oil highlights our need for a renewable energy agenda. Dennis Kucinich said “This is about the Constitution and if we don’t abide by our Constitution, everything falls apart here.” Ralph Nader said “Innocents are being slaughtered.” and…the Obama Administration is committing war crimes.” Kucinich and Nader are talking impeachment.

From the Hoover Institution, Bruce Thornton reminds us that “the lesson is one George Washington understood: ‘No nation can be trusted farther than it is bounded by its interests.’ So what are the national and security interests of the United States in this intervention?”

What are we hoping to accomplish in Libya? Obama and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have made it clear that we are not trying to remove Gaddafi and only want to protect Libyan civilians. Obama has said our commitment will last only for a few days or weeks.

Obama is more comfortable with our use of armaments from a distance — unmanned Predators, missiles, and bombs, I suppose because there is less risk to American lives, and the distance removes awareness of blown-up human beings. The Europeans claim they want multilateralism, but they would  rather go back to the Cold War period when the Americans kept the Soviets at bay, while they had demonstrations. Perhaps, if we are to be the world’s policeman, we should just charge dues. Since our European allies are unwilling to protect their own self-interests or support militaries, they could support our military.  That would at least have the added benefit of ending the Democrats’ complaint about defense spending.

Take a moment and make a list of countries where the people are oppressed by a brutal government. Your list would probably surprise you by how many countries you might include. So there you are.

Teddy Roosevelt famously said: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Obama’s version might be “speak a lot, but carry a twig.” He makes a big mistake by always beginning his statements with boundaries.  We’re going to have severe consequences, but the French have to go first and we’re only going to do this for a few days and we’re certainly not going to have any boots on the ground. That’s really scary, isn’t it? Or perhaps, ‘we’re going to fight this war fairly hard under really restrictive rules of engagement so no one gets hurt, and then we will leave in 6 months.’  Not exactly Osama bin Laden’s “strong horse.”  In its way, George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War was at least more threatening.  We assembled an international coalition with everyone contributing. Then we assembled the full might and power of the U.S. Military, and Saddam sat there waiting for the boom to fall.  Drawn out response, but effective. Obama is correct when he says that right now the American Military is busy elsewhere.

International problems are seldom as clear and decisive as World War II. We were attacked by Japan (bad move, but we were weak at the time) and Germany declared war on us. Americans have always had the illusion that once a war in which we are participants is over, then we can relax and divert the money wasted on defense to nice comfortable social problems. Wars may end, but international conflict will not.  Simply having a prepared, strong nation is, in itself, a deterrent. Weak, indecisive nations invite trouble.

The question of just what our national interests are is ongoing and troublesome.  It is interpreted anew with each new administration and however it is interpreted— usually not many agree.  A prepared population is one that knows history, and has thought seriously about war.  Thinking that war is bad, or not nice, is not thinking.  Here are the comments of a few others, all Conservatives, but Democrats aren’t making much sense. There is some serious consideration here.

— Bruce Thornton: “Foreign Policy as Wishful Thinking“,  Hoover Institution. .

— Victor Davis Hanson: “The Obama Doctrine,” The Corner, National Review Online.

— Jed Babbin: “Obama’s Unstable Middle East,” The Spectator.

— James Carafano: “Spectator in Chief,” The Foundry, The Heritage Foundation.

— J.E. Dyer: “This is Your World Without Traditional  US Leadership“,  Hot Air.


2 Comments so far
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Actually, I rather like this opinion piece by Cato’s Doug Bandow, Libya: Another Unnecessary War of Choice.

That said, it is hard for anybody who has been paying close attention to unfolding events in Libya not to be concerned about the ruthlessness of Khadafi towards his opponents.

That ruthlessness has been on display for many years, such as when he had his guards shoot more than 1000 political prisoners at Abu Slim prison in Tripoli in 1996.

When rebels reached by telephone in besieged cities say they had no choice but to continue fighting, as they would die anyway if they lost or gave up, does anybody doubt their sincerity?

Obama — the United States — is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If somebody did not intervene, then the world would have said that the West was to blame. On the other hand, by intervening, it will be very easy for critics (China, Russia, Africa, Arab nations, Iran) to agree with Khadafi and say that this was just another example of western nations trying to secure oil.

I think that Obama was right to get international support first, however fickle that support may prove to be. And, as many commentators have observed, had the United States been in the forefront, the knee-jerk reaction of Arab nations would have been to oppose any intervention. By staying in the background, and letting France and Britain take the lead (two nations that both spend large parts of their budgets on defense, by the way), the chances of getting a UN resolution was higher.

The question now is, what next? The initial tactical steps have been taken: a no-fly zone is in effect, and Benghazi is relatively secure. But what if the rebels start moving to regain lost ground, and they start killing civilians, if only through collateral damage? Does the west start shooting at them?

Meanwhile, of course, as you say, there are many other countries in the world that are brutalizing their own populations. Neither we nor any conceivable “coalition of the righteous” can put a stop to all of it. (And consider the moral hazard: we should not be surprised if some groups decide that the way to get other countries to step in and rebuild their economies is to foment a local rebellion.)

Regarding your characterization of multilateralism — “now that they’ve [Europeans] got it, they don’t like that either” — the same could be said about the USA’s attitude with respect to international economic co-operation. Many politicians, on both sides of the isle, claim to be all for common international rules governing trade. And the United States for years was the main country using the remedies available to it under those rules. But now that other countries are taking the United States to court over violations of those rules, U.S. politicians are bowing to pressures from special interests who seem to be of the opinion that the United States itself should not be bound by such rules. One result, for example, has been the U.S. subsidization of Brazilian agriculture.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I don’t go along with Bandow. I think a good reason why there has been so much rebellion in the Middle East is because of the emerging democracy in Iraq, however feeble. ( I think it was Petraeus who called it Iracracy) While I can go along with Libertarians on some things, we part company on a lot. Gadhafi is the worst sort of thug, and Libya desperately needs to be free of him. That said, we have no idea who the rebels we are supporting are. Some answers to that suggest that we may regret supporting them. I don’t pretend to have any answers on this one.

What Obama thinks he’s doing, I don’t know. I don’t think he was waiting for international support, I think he was dithering. Hillary, clearly is fed up. Nations have their own self-interests, and in theory, we have a State Department to try to find common ground with other nation’s self-interest. We have been supporting despots throughout the Middle East, but Mark Steyn covered that one: “I always love the way the West gets blamed in the Middle East for supporting despots and thugs. C’mon all you Arab “intellectuals?” Who else is there? Where’s your Havel or your Corazon Aquino?”

None of the players seem to have the same aims. Obama is supposedly dropping out as soon as a no-fly zone is established. His ‘don’t blame me’ strategy. Obama doesn’t seem to feel bound by the Constitution, or international rules. We were ruled against for our tariffs on sugar and sugar ethanol, but Obama is not dropping them as far as I know. He did not seek Congressional support. Tom Donlon, Nat. Security Advisor said “First of all, consultation with Congress is important. Secondly the administration welcomes the support of Congress in whatever form that they want to express that support.” Arrogant presumption.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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