Up until now, March Madness just meant the ritual of filling out brackets for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, then watching as they slowly (or in my case swiftly), get torn to shreds within the first weekend. However, in Washington, the madness has revolved around the civil strife in Libya. For much of the last month, the turmoil that has defined the Middle East has spread to the shores of Tripoli in some of the most violent uprisings since the Bosnian conflict in 1995. Contrary to expectations, the rebels, based in the city of Benghazi, had the upper hand, capturing much of the country and appeared poised to take Tripoli. Unfortunately for them, they found out it’s difficult to keep fighting when Gaddafi turns his army loose. By March 13th, the rebels were in full retreat, and the “capital” of Benghazi was under siege. It was at this time that the UN Security Council authorized a no-fly zone by a 10-0 vote, with P-5 countries Russia and China abstaining, and soon the US was sending ships and planes and men to halt Gaddafi.
Without congressional approval.
Without an address to the nation.
Without any explanation as to why the conflict in Libya is a national security priority.
It is the reasons mentioned above why many Americans, and congressmen from both sides of the aisle, oppose the conflict in Libya. What is even more surprising is that this conflict flipped the script in terms of support for military activity. Proponents for the Libyan conflict include Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, who oppose the Iraq war, claim intervening in Libya is a humanitarian issue and Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who maintain that it is America’s obligation to defend those who combat tyrants in their home country. Opponents of the conflict include Democrats like Representative Dennis Kucinich and Tea Party-backed Republicans like Rand Paul (and, of course, his father Ron), who are upset with Obama’s bypassing of Congress and instant support for the UN resolution. Some Democrats like Kucinich have even speculated that Obama’s actions are grounds for impeachment (no you read that right, Democrats are speculating that). Regardless of which side you fall on, this issue is one of the very few whose battle lines aren’t partisan, a rarity in the age of Obama.
The crisis in Libya has been often compared to the war in Iraq, but there are noticeable differences between the way Obama is handling Libya and the way Bush handled Iraq. In 2003, Bush took us to war in Iraq on the premise that dislodging Saddam Hussein would deprive al-Qaeda of a safe haven from which to attack America. Also, Saddam was thought to possess weapons of mass destruction capable of attacking Israel and the US. Even though nerve gas canisters were found, which can be called “weapons of mass destruction”, opponents say those were overstated, or even fabricated. Also, the war in Iraq did not gain UN approval, but it got congressional approval, and Bush addressed the nation before commencing with the war, along with nations like South Korea, the UK, Iceland, and a few other minor players. Obama took us into Libya without consulting Congress beforehand, choosing to send a letter explaining his actions after airstrikes began. Also, the conflict is currently limited to a no-fly zone, but there is every indicator that it will go beyond that and will involve ground troops, especially since Gaddafi has resumed his offensive on the ground despite the airstrikes. The premise for the Libyan conflict is that America can’t supposedly sit on the sidelines when a civil war is raging, so military action is justified in this case. So far, it isn’t the full blown invasion like we saw in Iraq, so the costs are significantly less, but given the ongoing budget battles in Washington and in the states, any amount of money spent is magnified, especially on defense.
One thing is clear however; the conflict in Libya has enabled the world to see what kind of leader Obama is in regards to military and foreign policy, especially when this seems like it will be Obama’s War, and it isn’t promising. By not consulting Congress, Obama has given the impression that UN approval is more important than approval by our elected representatives, thus giving the UN the power to dictate where US military might is deployed. At least with previous presidents like Bush, it was more important to get congressional approval, since it is the taxpayers that fund the military, not the UN. Also, despite Obama campaigning on promises of peace and a reduced presence around the world, promises that somehow earned him the 2009 Nobel Peace prize, it only takes a civil war in a country that doesn’t pose a major threat to American interests for him to contribute America’s military power. This was the kind of behavior that earned President Bush wide condemnation for being reckless, especially by then-Senators Obama and Joe Biden. In 2007, Joe Biden even went on record saying that violating the War Powers Resolution Act, which requires presidents to keep Congress informed regarding usage of the military, is grounds for impeachment, which Bush and Obama . Don’t get excited guys, President Obama won’t face Biden’s wrath anytime soon, he’ll have enough of a time trying to win back the liberals he lost over this conflict.
Let’s not forget about the costs of this conflict as well. A no-fly zone will cost roughly $1.2 billion a month, plus the costs of the Tomahawk missiles and the expected costs of ground troops that may become necessary, despite Obama saying he won’t be using them. NATO is expected to take control of the coalition very soon, but NATO’s military forces are backed up by the US, and make up a huge component of the coalition. Obama is also going to have to find a way to raise money for this war. Hopefully he will abide by the cut-go policies of the House of Representatives, especially since he wanted to make cuts in defense spending anyway, but it seems like it will mean raising taxes yet again.
The situation in Libya is changing every day and uncertainty over what America’s role in the conflict will continue. Whether or not the no-fly zone will force Gaddafi from power, or only increase his resistance to the sanctions will be decided in the coming days, weeks, months, or even years. One thing is clear, the Obama that ran against Bush’s war policy is gone, and has been replaced with an Obama that has not only embraced such policies, but has expanded them into yet another theater of war.
So much for “Change We Could Believe In”.