- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2011

It’s nice to have a neocon back in the White House. With reports of CIA covert action in Libya, emissaries being sent to talk to the rebel government and ongoing air support for the anti-Gadhafi forces, regime change is definitely in the air. All we need to make it official at this point is for the White House to come up with a clunky new euphemism, like “nonpermissive humanitarian governmental transformation,” or some such thing.

Mr. Obama’s experiment in using covert action to take down Libya’s government may bring to mind similar CIA efforts against Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953, or Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973. But in spirit, the operation has much more in common with the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. At this point, the most significant difference is that there are no - or at least much fewer - boots on the ground. For now anyway.

Mr. Obama’s motive - trying to dislodge an authoritarian regime in the name of the Libyan people - are solidly within the neoconservative framework. Aside from programs to develop weapons of mass destruction - and Mr. Gadhafi’s were substantial - the fundamental belief in universal human liberty is at the root of the classic neocon foreign policy approach. When the White House talks about supporting the “legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people,” the word “Libyan” could be replaced with “Iraqi” and we’d be right back in 2002.

Of course, back then, Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama was solidly against the impending “dumb war” in Iraq. He told an anti-war rally that, “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military is a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.” Again, replace “Saddam” with “Gadhafi” and “Iraq” with “Libya” and you could have a ready-made anti-kinetics speech, 2011-style.

The problem is that as a novice neocon, Mr. Obama has made some rookie mistakes. His “coalition of the willing” is smaller than the ones assembled by President George W. Bush; in fact, he has the weakest international support for any combined kinetic operation since the end of World War II. His United Nations mandate is much weaker than that enjoyed by his predecessor and of questionable legality. Mr. Obama’s leadership style - imploring other countries to get involved so he can hastily bow out - leaves much to be desired. Agreeing to arm and train the rebels before anyone outside of Libya knows exactly who they are is sloppy. Not seeking congressional buy-in was politically unwise. On top of all this, the odds of Mr. Obama having a “Phase IV” post-conflict reconstruction plan for Libya ready to go are exactly zero.

Mr. Obama is also hobbled by the fact that he refuses publicly to embrace his inner neocon and act more decisively. Half measures only serve to lengthen the conflict and increase the costs and casualties. Operation Odyssey Dawn would already be over if the coalition had intervened with force when the rebels were advancing on Tripoli a month ago. If Mr. Obama had the diplomatic dexterity to convince the international community that Mr. Gadhafi is a legitimate target for the kind of missile strikes currently raining down on terrorist targets in the hinterlands of Pakistan, regime change could come with a bloodbath of one.