Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is Libya the antidote to Iraq Syndrome?

When President Obama announced on March 18, 2011, that he would deploy the United States military in order to enforce a United Nations resolution, there was little doubt that the intervention on behalf of the Libyan people was not solely dedicated to their protection, even if that was the primary justification for the mission.

Nobody's jaw dropped when Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told MSNBC three days later, "We are in Libya because of oil."

With the Arab world in chaos, anxieties over the future of oil production spiked gasoline prices by 20 percent in a matter of weeks. On par with the economy and the unemployment rate, gas prices determine elections. Unfortunately, high gas prices do not justify military intervention. Luckily, the potential for mass murder does.

The American people already have abandoned their aversion to yet another military endeavor, mainly because the administration and the media have joined forces to reassure the public that Libya is not an invasion, a war, or an occupation. 

Unlike "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan, which was an eye-for-an-eye assault on the elusive mastermind behind Sept. 11, 2001, and unlike "Operation Iraqi Freedom," which was sold to the American people based on false pretenses and hyped fears of mushroom clouds over major U.S. cities and weapons of mass destruction – and an invasion/war/occupation orchestrated by a millionaire oil company CEO who also happened to be the vice president, no less Libya, conversely, has the potential to become the antidote to "Iraq Syndrome," an engagement that not only unifies the American public but that also reverses the reputation of the United States as a war-mongering, war-profiteering world police force.

The Libya intervention is not only a "just" mission, it is also "just" a mission. The president has promised both America and the international community that no ground troops will be deployed. 

In Afghanistan, there was an evil terrorist roaming around the hills laughing about his attacks on the World Trade Center. In Iraq there were (allegedly) chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

In Libya there is a dictator, Muammar al-Qaddafi, who has authorized aerial bombings of his own cities and deployed the army to hunt down and kill civilian rebels unsupportive of his regime. "Any Libyan" who "undermines the sovereignty of the state," who commits crimes against the army, or who opposes his reign "will be punished by death," Qaddafi said.

"We will show no mercy and no pity to them," he warned.

This "mission" is a political win-win for President Obama. However involved, however bloody, however defined by historians, the first phase of bombing the military facilities of a dictator is sure to give Obama a boost in the polls.

Beyond quelling fears of ever-higher gas prices, the use of military force against a world enemy has the potential to erase the image of Obama as a weak leader and an inexperienced and incapable commander in chief.

By framing the engagement as a humanitarian relief effort aimed at protecting the civilian rebels being targeted, incarcerated, and murdered by Qaddafi's troops, the administration can win the hearts of both the pro-military conservatives and the foreign policy isolationists on the left.

Conservatives are easy. They love a good fight against a bad guy, and Qaddafi is about as bad as it gets (worse, or at least on par with, Saddam Hussein). What's the point in having the greatest military on earth – and spending more on defense than every other developed country combined – if you don't flex a little military muscle every now and then? Furthermore, if we justified the dethroning of Saddam, Qaddafi, given his latest antics, should be no question.

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

Many liberals, on the other hand, prefer that America keep to herself. But they have a weakness for peace missions. With the support of France and Britain, the United States – by far the most militarily equipped for the initial strikes on key air force facilities – is leading the surge. But the intention is to turn the mission over to NATO, which would brand the intervention not as another U.S. war but as a unified international coalition fighting as one in order to ensure peace and democracy in the Arab world. By promising that no U.S. ground forces will be deployed, Obama has tried to turn the hearts of his own base. By employing the rhetoric of past commanders in chief – the "reluctance" to use military force, the pursuit of peace, the refusal of a dictator to agree to the terms of resolution drafted by an international coalition – Obama has earned a nod of approval from the entire world.  

As for the apolitical majority of American citizens, strong rhetoric about the coalition, about the humanitarian crisis, and about the potential of mass graves come second, third and fourth, respectively, to the bottom line. If gasoline prices fall in America because of the U.S. military's involvement in Libya, the ends will justify the means.

If Obama is lucky, historians will document the "mission" in Libya through a lens that focuses not on the political intentions or the casualties it caused, but on the national and international support it garnered.


The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.
All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people.
 – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

• "No time for doubters" – The Economist

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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