Military Action in Libya: Conundrums and Calculations

-By Warner Todd Huston

The military action in Libya undertaken by a “coalition of the willing” at the end of last week is, from an American perspective, as vexing as it is elating. On one hand it is good that the US came to the aid of a people yearning to over thrown a murderous dictator, but on the other it is troubling that America is going into this with no plan, no policy, and no idea who the players on the rebel side even are.

On top of all that President Obama is going ahead with this intervention in precisely the same ways that he pointedly criticized President Bush for doing in Iraq. In fact, some on the American left are leveling just that accusation him.

Then there is the split opinion of those on the right. On one hand you have those that were bemoaning the lack of American leadership in the world, those that were startled that France was taking the lead in Libya, those who are celebrating over Obama’s late-in-coming decision. However, other conservatives are saying we should stay out of Libya because we don’t have the slightest clue if we are about to usher in another Islamist “revolution” if Gaddhafi should fall.

A conservative is pulled in a dozen directions at once over this issue, to be sure. Conservatives are whipsawed from amusement that Obama is being attacked by his own for being too much like George W. Bush, to fear of living in a post America era, to hope that a tyrant might fall, to alarm that al Qaeda might replace him, and back to amusement again that Obama is bungling this all so badly (which again leads to fear that his bungling hurts the nation, incidentally).

So, as a conservative we have to really think hard about this whole thing and from a conservative perspective one can only see that this whole situation is a failure all the way around thus far.

First of all we must say right up front that no matter what comes later in Libya, it is a good thing should Gaddhafi be deposed. He is a murderer, he is an enemy to this country and to decent people everywhere, and he has oppressed his people for far, far too long. If something worse follows him that does not erase the fact that eliminating Gaddhafi is a good thing. Because it is a good thing.

Unfortunately, Obama has made a hash of this whole thing. He waited far too long, he allowed the French, the French, to become the boosters of liberty in our place, and his weak proclamations backed by no real policy at all has made the U.S. look absurd. Obama isn’t the only one lacking a plan, either.

After all, what is the international policy here? The coalition intends to make sure innocents aren’t being killed, which is good, of course. But what is the plan if Gaddhafi should be deposed? For that matter, who are the “rebels”?

Most of the time rebels of successful revolutions have already created a movement, a hierarchy, or are already involved as a minority on the political scene of their country. That being said, do we know who these rebels are? What is their philosophy? Who are their leaders? What have they written? Who is backing them, or is anyone? What do they want other than the end of Gaddhafi (which is no small thing).

This complete lack of knowledge is what scares security minded Americans that we could be ushering out a murderous dictator and ushering in the next Mullah controlled terrorist state. Has Obama answered any of these questions for us? Does he even know? What does he know? It sure seems that he has made these decisions with little real knowledge of anything on the ground in Libya.

As to non-interventionist conservatives and anti-war liberals alike they are oddly in agreement that Obama is approaching this in the wrong way. The president criticized Bush for his supposedly unilateral decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan yet here he is doing the same thing in Libya. He’s making war decisions without consulting congress just as he claimed that Bush did and because of that he casts some doubts on the legitimacy of his decision.

But the policy question is the most vexing. While we can be happy that a dictator might be falling what exactly is Obama’s plan? What is the Obama foreign policy doctrine? We all know that this question has been asked for two years, long before a rebellion in Libya became a question. Obama has been sleep walking from one foreign policy question to the next without once seeming to have a direction. Like a leaf in a stream, Obama is blown all over the place uncontrollably. Or at least uncontrolled and undirected.

Finally, lets compare candidate Obama constantly complaining about Bush’s take down of Saddam Hussein to his sudden desire to bring freedom to Libya by eliminating Gaddhafi. Why was Saddam not someone we should see deposed but Gaddhafi is? Saddam was worse than Gaddhafi, far worse, but even comparing the two is a waste of time. Both deserve(d) to be eliminated. Still, Obama argued for the status quo in Iraq allowing Saddam to stay in control of Iraq yet here he is claiming that Gaddhafi has “lost his legitimacy” as ruler of Libya. Can anyone truthfully explain the difference between the legitimacy of Saddam and Gaddhafi?

The fact is, whether intervention is good or not, Obama has no leg to stand on, here. His move to intervene in Libya is simply hypocritical in light of his own foreign policy ideas as a candidate.

In all this we are adrift in a sea of uncertainty. We have no idea what to think about the action in Libya. But one thing is sure. Barack Obama is making a mess of the whole situation and he is damaging America’s standing in the world in the process.

(Originally posted at
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Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,, and, as well as,,,,, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

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