But If We Achieved What We Set Out to Accomplish, Now What?

by Shannen W. Coffin

Shortly after listening to Obama’s speech, I returned to the book that has been sitting by my bedside for the better part of a year, Ronald C. White Jr.’s A. Lincoln (which doubles as a handy doorstop), and just happened to come to the chapter on the Gettysburg Address. As White observes, Lincoln did not use a single reference to himself in the speech (except as part of “we”), hoping to capture more transcendent truths in three hundred words or less. 

Now, perhaps an address justifying limited military operations over a mid-sized Middle Eastern country is not an equal occasion to reflect on the eternal principles that underlie our great nation, but it also shouldn’t be an occasion to congratulate yourself for being able to get to the back of the line in an international coalition faster than Bill Clinton took the lead on a previous occasion. 

Obama all but said that the U.S. has accomplished what it set out to do in Libya. The question, then, is what are we still doing there? Of course, the truth is much more complicated. Sure, we stopped an assault on a city that Obama reminded us is the size of Charlotte, North Carolina, but if we pulled up stakes today, have we only deferred Qaddafi’s inevitable retaking of Benghazi? How then does U.S. military involvement end if removing Qaddafi from power is not a military objective? 

Roger Simon at Politico captured the internal inconsistency of Obama’s speech — and policy — better than anyone in only a few words: 

Mission accomplished. But ongoing.

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