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PRUDEN: The answer man speaks Arabic

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A growing number of congressmen say they want answers to questions about what the U.S. government is up to in Libya, but they're looking to the wrong people for answers.

The questions shouldn't be addressed to President Obama, to the secretary of state or the secretary of defense, but to the United Nations, the Arab League and maybe NATO. Nobody wants to lead. Everybody's looking for the exits, coherent strategy or not.

Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, says Libya posed no threat to the United States but explains that "it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest for ... the engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake."

The Arabs and the Europeans have been unleashed as the big dogs, with the United States looking for a role as a wagging tail. Washington doesn't even get to say much about the "general humanitarian question," a question that seems clear enough in Libya but apparently not in Syria, or Jordan or Yemen or any of the other way stations to the Islamic paradise now threatened by the restless natives.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been leading the charge within the Obama administration for doing something even if it's something wrong, says there's no plan -- yet -- to do to Bashar Assad what we're trying to do, sort of, to Moammar Gadhafi. That's because the international community, the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council haven't given the White House permission. Besides, some members of Congress think Mr. Assad is a "reformer" who has not yet shown himself brutal enough to be an official bad guy.

"What's happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning," Mrs. Clinton told CBS News on Sunday, but "there's a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities, and police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see."

The president may be joining his teleprompter for the occasional speech, but his approach seems mainly to stay out of it, or far away from it, perhaps dreaming of joining Jimmy Carter on his mission to Cuba. He wouldn't want to be reminded of how he told the Boston Globe in 2007 that "the president does not have the 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." Just about that time Hillary Clinton, then a United States senator from New York, told her colleagues that "if [George W. Bush] believes that any -- any -- use of force against Iran is necessary, the president must come to Congress to seek that authority."

Jake Tapper of ABC News posed the question Sunday that's obvious to everyone but the merry pranksters at the White House: "Why not go to Congress?"

Ummm, ah, er. Mrs. Clinton can 'splain that. "Well, we would welcome congressional support. But I don't think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention, where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission, is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama was speaking of several years ago. I think this has a limited time frame, a very clearly defined mission which we are in the process of fulfilling."

But the "clearly defined mission" is beginning to suffer the hopey-changey disease at the edges of that "limited time frame." The White House now says the Libyan operation, once described as something to be wrapped up in days not weeks, might require months. Mr. Obama can't persuade the nation that he knows what he's doing, but he nevertheless told Mr. Gadhafi that despite the falling bombs he certainly has no intention of killing him. Why would a commander in chief, who has unleashed "kinetic action" (the preferred White House weasel word for "war"), encourage the enemy with reassurance like that? Better to tell him that there's a bullet with his name on it and doom could arrive at any moment.

Much of the heaviest fighting so far appears to be contained within the Obama administration. The Pentagon wants to give peace a chance, eager to mortar the pantywaists at the State Department, which this time prefers to give war a chance. Bob Gates looks more and more like the not-so-famous starlet on the set of a Hollywood clunker inquiring of another starlet, "who do you have to sleep with to get out of this movie?"

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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