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Right Turn
Posted at 12:29 PM ET, 03/20/2011

Obama’s odd war

The Post reported that the no-fly zone once ruled out by the administration has been established:

In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, [Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike] Mullen said Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi had been halted and that Western forces had taken out most of the country’s air defense systems.

Mullen outlined the main goals of the military effort as being threefold: to successfully establish a no-fly zone over Libya, to arrest Gaddafi’s ability to massacre his own people, and make possible the entry of humanitarian assistance into Libya.

U.S. and British warships rained scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles on Libyan air defenses and French warplanes swooped down on military vehicles Saturday, launching a U.N.-supported military intervention intended to stop Gaddafi’s brutal assault on opposition forces.

Contrary to President Obama’s suggestion at his Friday press conference that the U.S. would not be in the lead, our military certainly is. Despite the president’s bizarre affinity for downplaying our superpower status, the United States is the only power that can organize and implement a significant military action of this kind.

Adm. Mullen also appeared on Fox News on Sunday. When pressed by host Chris Wallace as to whether we were going to allow Gadaffi to remain in power, Mullen meandered around for a bit and then said the mission was focused on Benghazi.

We are now in an odd situation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on Saturday, “We have every reason to fear that, left unchecked, Gaddafi will commit unspeakable atrocities.” And yet Obama’s comments at his news conference and Adm. Mullen’s comments Sunday seemed to indicate our goal and our means were very limited.

He emphasized to the public and our enemy that we wouldn’t use ground troops. Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Institute commented to me, “It is unfortunate that the president is preemptively limiting how far he is willing to go to ensure that Gaddafi can no longer threaten his people and the United States and our allies.” A Capitol Hill adviser and expert in foreign policy matters surmised that this “reflects the lowest common denominator that gets U.N. approval.” Both are true, I would surmise. As we have seen in Afghanistan, Obama is all about deadlines, cutoffs and limitations on war. Whether this stems from his own lack of understanding of what wars require or whether this is a bone thrown to his liberal base is unknowable.

But Obama then raised an even more troubling caveat:

Now, once more, Moammar Gaddafi has a choice. The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misurata, and Zawiya, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.

Let me be clear: These terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action.

Huh? What ever happened to “Gaddafi must go”? On Friday I asked State Department spokesman Marc Toner if it was still our policy that “Gaddafi must go.” He replied by e-mail: “As [the secretary of state] said, [we] need to take this one step at a time. The most urgent action needed is an end to the violence and — to that end — we want to see Gaddafi’s forces pulled back from Benghazi, Adjabiya, Misurata and Zawiya – and get humanitarian assistance to the Libyan people. That’s the goal of UNSCR 1973.”

What does THAT mean? Perhaps it means, “No, we’ve bought into the U.N.’s more limited goal.” Or maybe it means, “Who can tell around here?” Or maybe it means, “I can’t comment.” In any case, confusion about the fundamental purpose of the war is, to say the least, unhelpful.

And that bring us to another outlandish comment from Friday. Obama proclaimed that “this is precisely how the international community should work.” No, it isn’t. We’ve delayed for weeks, leading to more bloodshed. We’ve shrunk rhetorically from a leading role suggesting that we must hide behind the skirts of the French and British . And we have conveyed that without the “international community” we will remain inert.

The question now remains, will we see that Gaddafi is defeated and removed or has Obama so hamstrung the mission that the butcher of Tripoli could survive?

By  |  12:29 PM ET, 03/20/2011

 
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