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Mr. Dilettante: Obama fails to make case

I didn’t watch President Obama’s speech, since I was taking an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood instead. Seemed like a better use of my time. After having read the speech, which you can find here, it was definitely a better move. A few quick comments, based on the text. One thing that caught my attention was this passage:

Despite the success of our efforts over the past week, I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya. Gaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. Moreover, even after Gaddafi does leave power, forty years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task. And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community, and – more importantly – a task for the Libyan people themselves.

Translation: you’re on your own, dudes. Bottom line here: we told Iraq the same thing in 1991.

You might want to ask those Iraqis who sought self-determination how it turned out, but it would be difficult to do so without a seance, because most of them have been dead for about 20 years. Obama also couldn’t resist a dig at his predecessor. Of course he couldn’t:

The task that I assigned our forces – to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger, and to establish a No Fly Zone – carries with it a UN mandate and international support. It is also what the Libyan opposition asked us to do. If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next. To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.

This is pretty much crap from beginning to end. Bush took nearly a year to assemble a coalition for the Iraq theater. We had a variety of allies involved. What’s more silly is the notion that somehow, now that we have intervened in Libya, we’ll just be able to walk away and that the coalition that Obama has ostensibly assembled will just take it from there. Not a chance. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an Obama speech without some high-minded nonsense:

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

Africa is a vast place, but there is a country not far from Libya that puts the lie to this statement quite conclusively — Sudan. We’ve known that genocide has been ongoing in Darfur for many years now and we’ve done little of anything to stop it. We also know that Bashir Assad is gunning down inconvenient sectors of the Syrian populace with impunity right now. We are doing nothing about that either, nor will we.

It would be better, and a hell of a lot more honest, to stop pretending that we will do things we have no intention of doing. Barack Obama has chosen to get involved in Libya for reasons that could be defended. Perhaps some day he’ll make a more compelling case for the actions he’s taking than he did tonight.

This post was written by Mark Huering and originally published on Mr. Dilettante’s Neighborhood.

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