Which is worse: bad leadership or no leadership? That’s a question for a Congress that remains AWOL while young Americans continue to be placed in harm’s way in military missions increasingly divorced from American national interests. Like developments in Afghanistan and Iraq that cry out for a public examination of what U.S. forces are doing overseas, President Obama’s incoherent war in Libya brings increasing urgency to the question.
To recap, the president unilaterally ordered air strikes in Libya despite the fact that Moammar Qaddafi’s regime had neither attacked nor threatened the United States and that the regime was considered a valuable American ally in the war on terror by the Obama administration, just as it had been by the Bush administration. Indeed, the Bush State Department had opened the foreign-aid spigot to Qaddafi, and settled past terrorism claims against him, after the dictator forswore the pursuit of nuclear weapons and shared intelligence on al-Qaeda supporters in his country. Those supporters largely hail from eastern Libya, which — surprise! — is now the stronghold of an opposition affectionately called “the rebels” by pro-interventionists. That opposition is better understood as the Libyan mujahideen — Libya having sent more jihadists to fight against American forces in Iraq than any other country proportional to its population.
If you’re not dizzy enough yet, President Obama started out even more enthusiastic about Qaddafi (an Obama admirer) than was his predecessor. Foreign aid, including military aid to the brutal regime, was increased. Moreover, when violent unrest broke out, Obama gave Qaddafi the same kid-gloves treatment he extended to anti-American dictators repressing their opponents in Iran and Syria.
Soon, though, Obama convinced himself that Qaddafi was about to fall. This misimpression was compounded by European pressure (driven by the continent’s dependency on Libyan oil reserves) and by what Victor Davis Hanson sagely diagnosed as a desire to avoid being seen as once again trailing rather than leading events, as in the case of Egypt. All this together induced a lethal flip-turn, and the president announced that it was time for Qaddafi to go.
Yet, Obama’s unprovoked military offensive, in conjunction with NATO, is ostensibly divorced from this stated American goal. We began attacking Qaddafi’s forces and his compound while disavowing any intention to oust him. We are there only to protect civilians, administration officials maintain. Meanwhile, attacks against Qaddafi intensify, “rebel” atrocities against black Africans are ignored, and intervention hawks like Sen. John McCain (until recently a supporter of the U.S. embrace of Qaddafi) advocate that the rebels be armed and trained, notwithstanding their known terrorism ties.
Obama did not seek congressional authorization to commence combat operations in Libya. In compliance with the 1973 War Powers Act (WPA), however, he notified Congress about his commitment of U.S. forces. This triggered the 60-day time limit within which the WPA instructs a president to either obtain congressional approval or withdraw U.S. forces. That deadline came and went on May 21 with no congressional authorization and no movement to wind down the mission — even though, when he began bombing, Obama had assured Americans that the mission would last “days, not weeks.”