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Odyssey Dawn and Obama

Today’s trivia quiz should be relatively simple. Who said “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” No fair skipping ahead to the answer, which is at the bottom of the page. I will give you one clue, it wasn’t Bush.

The question is relevant today (March 20) because of Operation “Odyssey Dawn,” the military’s code name for the bombing of Libya in support of anti-Qaddafi rebels in besieged Benghazi. On the 18th, Obama said “We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone.” Asked about the “unique capabilities” the president talked about contributing, they would not involve combat fighters or bombers, a senior U.S. official familiar with the military planning discussions said Friday.

Today, less than 48 hours after the official said no bombers would be involved, the U.S. hammered Libya with cruise missiles and airstrikes targeting Moammar Qaddafi’s forces yesterday, launching the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war. The U.S. military said 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American ships.

“The people of Libya must be protected, and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act, and to act with urgency,” Obama said.

Libyan regime official Mohammed al-Zwei, however, claimed a large number of civilians were injured when several civilian and military sites in the capital, Tripoli, and the nearby city of Misrata were hit. “This barbaric aggression against the Libyan people comes after we had announced a cease-fire against the armed militias which are part of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb,” he said.

The important part of that statement was not about the civilians that were injured, but that the anti-government rebels were al-Qaida from the Islamic Maghreb. Once again, faced with a choice between two unappealing combatants, Obama has come down on the side of the greater evil. As he did in Egypt and Iran, Obama has aligned himself, and, in Libya’s case, American force, with one of the groups that continues to threaten America with terrorism. Libya, to be sure, is no great bargain, either. But in the scheme of things, their last real offense against the West was the Lockerbie bombing, which is old news, especially in today’s ADHD culture. As of May 2006, the U.S. has removed Libya from its list of states that sponsor terrorism. Since it appears that there is no clear “good guy” to back, perhaps we should sit this one out.

At least we can be sure that Obama’s use of force is not motivated by oil, Libya being only a very minor exporter to the US. Right around 2 percent of our import oil comes from Libya. The cost of our Tomahawk missiles is almost greater than the cost cost of the oil we import.

But why are we on the side of the rebels, and why are we involving ourselves in Libya anyway, if not for oil? Human rights? Hardly. The Obama administration has been largely silent on any real human rights issues, as were the Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations. Obama has largely ignored sub-Saharan Africa; witness the three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire. Pakistan continues to reap American largesse, even though their government continues to persecute Christians as policy. Mexico, Azerbaijan, Cuba, the list goes on. Obama’s desire to protect the “innocent civilians” would be laudable, if, in fact, that was his desire. As it stands now, his words ring hollow when viewed in the light of his record.

It’s not oil; there’s more oil in the Athabascan Tar Sands than in Libya, and we’re not at war with Canada. It’s not human rights, unless Libyans are somehow “more human” than everyone else. So what could it be? Personally, I can only conclude that Obama is just plain old incompetent in matters of foreign affairs. Rumors are already circulating that the folks at Foggy Bottom are increasingly despondent about the lack of focus in our foreign policy. Even Clinton is rumored to be eying an early departure, attributed to frustration over Obama’s ineptitude. It’s gotten so bad that even Michael Moore is criticizing Obama.

I pray that it is merely incompetence. Otherwise, we’d be left with the specter of a president actively choosing to side with those who are more anti-American than the alternative.

The answer to the trivia quiz? Barack Obama, to the Boston Globe, 2007. I guess he doesn’t care that much about the constitution, after all.

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