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EDITORIAL: President Obama, mission creep
White House bungles Libya crisis while on Spring Break
President Obama is being denounced by most of the developing world as an aggressor; protesters are demonstrating outside the White House charging America with committing torture; pictures have been released of American troops engaged in barbaric acts; and liberal Democrats have discovered the word impeachment. It seems like it is 2005 again, but this time Barack is playing the role of commander in chief instead of Senate floor heckler.
@-Text.normal:It didn't take long for the consensus on action in Libya to fray. The Obama administration stated that the United States would not play a "preeminent role" in Operation Odyssey Dawn, but that has not saved the United States from the lion's share of criticism. Simply refusing to lead is not enough to escape blame. A president won't inspire confidence by refusing to take any stand.
The Obama administration claimed to have assembled a broad coalition in support of the Libyan venture, including support from key Arab states. However, once more than 100 cruise missiles were launched, the Arab League backed out, essentially accusing America of a bait and switch. The league's secretary general, Amr Mussa, said, "What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians." The African Union also condemned the action; Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz insisted that "Libya's unity and territorial integrity be respected" and rejected "any kind of foreign military intervention."
Russia, which abstained on the U.N. Security Council vote authorizing force, now disparagingly compares the effort to oust Col. Moammar Gadhafi to the Crusades and has accused the coalition of killing the very civilians they are seeking to protect. The People's Republic of China also has voiced misgivings about the assault on Libya's sovereignty. Amid this growing international crisis, Mr. Obama took his trip to Rio de Janeiro as planned even though Brazil did not back the resolution, which signals to the world that there is no penalty for abandoning the United States in a critical cause. Other presidents might have used the trip to South America as leverage to compel a better outcome, but apparently Mr. Obama doesn't believe Machiavelli's dictum that it is better to be feared than loved. The result of White House feebleness is that the O Force is neither feared nor loved.
House Democrats, in particular Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, have raised questions about the legality and legitimacy of the Libyan operation. Mr. Kucinich sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, with a Dec. 20, 2007, quote from then-Sen. Barack Obama arguing, "the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." This president's defenders are left having to argue that it depends on what the meaning of the word "unilaterally" is, and then they point to their United Nations' mandate. By comparison, the George W. Bush administration, which Mr. Obama was criticizing in 2007, had an even stronger Security Council resolution authorizing action against Iraq, and the Bushies took the time to get congressional buy-in as well.
All the while, as bombs fly, questions remain about the scope of the intervention in Libya, its objectives, duration and long-term consequences. The decision to take action, so long in coming, now ironically looks thrown together and poorly thought out. Mr. Obama, who is always so vitally concerned with how he is perceived in the international community, is now looking like just another American mission creep.
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