The Nobel Peace Prize winner came face to face with the nation to justify a third war in a short span of time for the United States—this one in Libya.
President Obama gave a self-assured and forceful performance last night in his live televised speech, to a small audience of military experts at National Defense University. War and peace meet again. He escalated the war in Afghanistan, begun in 2001, after careful study. The decision was rather like adopting an orphan. So now that war belongs to him. [See photos of the unrest in Libya.]
History abounds in irony, but this one is cruel. The American people are stressed out over their pocketbooks, taxes, retirement, and the unemployment rate, which are hitting home with many families. Most know in their hearts that the "un-won" wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that President Bush started are the reasons why the economy is under siege—not to mention the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which Obama agreed to extend.
In short, people are weary of war. They know—or we know—this adventure in Libya is a cheap date we can't afford.
Obama put the best possible face on the whole business in Libya, couching the new no-fly zone in terms of a NATO coalition and humanitarian operation. That is a bit of a fig leaf over the extent of our importance and investment. Then Obama noted the oppressed Arab world is breathing in the oxygen of democracy and revolution—bully for them and power to the people! Revolutions can be catching, though it's not clear that any political reforms in the air intend to include Arab women as full citizens.
That raises the legitimate question: Who are these ragtag rebels in Libya? We don't have their resumes or backgrounds or true beliefs on file. All we seem to know is that they are the enemy of our enemy, Muammar Qadhafi, and we've managed to live with him as an international outcast for years with a policy of containment. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Middle East uprisings.]
Libya will not be a republic anytime soon. The secretary of defense, Robert Gates, admitted it is not a vital interest to the United States on our foreign policy map. Over the last 10 days, he sounded as if he had to be talked into the third military intervention in a decade. That is why I like and trust Gates as Washington's most honest man. [Vote now: Was Obama right on Libya’s no-fly zone?]
In fact, Obama was low key and cautious about "giving a war" (to paraphrase Sandburg's, "sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come") in Libya in the first place, to his credit. Can we lay this war at the door of the secretary of state? Hillary Clinton seems to be driving the policy, the press interviews, and the official statements. As a presidential candidate, she refused to apologize for her Senate vote to authorize the war in Iraq.
So Secretary Clinton may be giving us a new war. The thank you note is in the mail.