The events in Libya shapes the Obama Doctrine
By Dave Balson
Special to USAfricaonline.com
As U.S. warships sit in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, firing Tomahawk missiles at Muammar Qaddafi’s military forces, the Obama Doctrine is beginning to take on a whole new shape.
President Obama is well known for his calm, reasoned approach to crises, but the wave of revolutions in the Arab world has put him in some particularly difficult situations. So far, the president has had to carefully hedge his bets, as popular uprisings have threatened major strategic allies in the region. When protests in Egypt swelled to the point where it was clear President Hosni Mubarak would be ousted, Obama had to side against a leader who was no friend of democracy, but had long been on the U.S. payroll for keeping peace with Israel.
As the strict regimes of Saudi Arabia-our third-largest oil supplier-and Bahrain-the tiny Arab nation where the U.S. 5th Fleet is stationed-have cracked down on protesters, Obama has remained rather quiet.
In Libya, however, it is much easier to choose sides. For a while, it looked like the rebels would topple Qaddafi and Obama would only have to issue stern condemnations of Qaddafi. But Qaddafi used all of his military might, bought by decades of oil revenue, and turned the tide. And when the international community, led by France and England, decided to enforce a no-fly zone (a nice euphemism for bombing the hell out of an army) Obama decided to throw the U.S. into the ring.
Operation Odyssey Dawn, the video-game-sounding name of the UN mission, is authorized to take “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, “excluding a foreign occupation force.”
It is easy at this point to consider such a decision by the Obama administration as downright contrary to the fundamental ethos of the man we elected. After all, one of the defining characteristics of candidate Obama was his opposition to the Iraq war.
The parallels between Operations Odyssey Dawn and Operation Iraqi Freedom are obvious: America is using its military to depose a dictator it has long despised, one who has attacked his own people, in an Arab country which posed no direct threat to the U.S., but has significant oil reserves.
But the parallels end there. The differences-two in particular-are far more significant.
One is the justification. The Obama administration has made no effort to persuade nor, more to the point, deceive the American people or the international community that Qaddafi poses any significant threat beyond his borders.
No faulty (or false) evidence has been presented to link Qaddafi with Al-Qaida or suggest he has nuclear weapons.
Second, the U.S. is following the lead of the international community. Obama, wisely, waited for France and England to step forth before committing American assistance. Even a number of Arab countries are on board.
In fact, this more closely parallels the decision of the Clinton administration not to intervene in the Rwandan genocide, a decision Clinton deeply regrets. Qaddafi is a true madman. It is hard to know whether he believes his own assertion that the rebel forces are under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. And U.S. officials are concerned that he might use stockpiles of mustard gas on his own people, according to the LA Times. We’ve seen this cautious approach from Obama before on many domestic issues. In the battle over health care reform, Wall Street reform and recent budget debates, his style has been to remove himself from the slings and arrows of the day-to-day fighting.
Now, facing a humanitarian crisis, he has tried to make clear that the U.S. will only play a supporting role in the UN action against Libya.
But U.S. troops are deployed in two countries, and the U.S.-its economy and its morale-cannot commit itself to a third.
Obama, as promised, has ended combat operations in Iraq. He has, as promised, shifted troops and resources into Afghanistan.
Now we will find out if he can keep his promise to keep ground troops out of Libya.
For many Americans, George W. Bush’s push to war in Iraq was one of the most disastrous foreign policy decisions a president made in their lifetimes. Libya may well be where we learn whether we were right to believe in Obama’s promise of change. •Balson is a journalism student and opinion editor of the Daily Eastern News.
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