The conversation: Critiquing Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya
Should the U.S. have intervened in Libya? For many opinionators and analysts, the answer is a resounding no. They say it's unconstitutional and unaffordable; and that it's unclear whether there's a game plan. Here's some of the critique.
No-fly zone: A case of "be careful what you wish for"
As someone who supported a Libyan no-fly zone from the earliest days of what once seemed like a revolution but now looks like a civil war, I have to admit that Operation Odyssey Dawn may be a perfect example of being careful about what you wish for. […]
In the heat of the moment, Obama could have taken out [Libyan President Moammar] Kadafi without much of an explanation. But now he must offer a rationale that's very hard to square with what's going on in the rest of the Middle East. Obama says Libyan rebels must be protected from a leader who would kill them "without mercy." OK, does that apply as well to Saudi, Yemeni, Bahraini and Iranian rebels? No? Why not?
The U.S. should brace itself for criticism
Regardless of its good intentions, the United States will be depicted once again as predatory and anti-Muslim, generating more terrorism in due course.
We can't afford another war
What seems so striking to me, though, from the perspective of being in Paris and London, is the default belief among so many in the U.S. that America needs to “be a leader” on this. I think that over time, whatever our tactical decision with respect to this particular crisis, we need very much not to be a leader in this sense. We can’t afford it.
So much for Obama’s word …
When your country fires 122 of 124 Tomahawk missiles into a country in a single day, and your pilots are doing bombing runs, then your country is leading a war on that other country. That's true even if the French President got his jets there first, and your president only announced it in a radio address from Brazil.
This intervention is unconstitutional and illegitimate
There is no doubt that U.S. participation in the Anglo-French-American attack on Libya is completely unconstitutional. As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, before becoming president Barack Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a former law professor, accurately described the limits of a president’s authority to initiate a war in cases where the U.S. has neither been attacked nor is in imminent danger of attack:
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.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.
The pros and cons of a liberal intervention
This way of war has obvious advantages. It spreads the burden of military action, sustains rather than weakens our alliances, and takes the edge off the world’s instinctive anti-Americanism. Best of all, it encourages the European powers to shoulder their share of responsibility for maintaining global order, instead of just carping at the United States from the sidelines.
But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.
How the U.S. should have handled Libya
Was there nothing we could have done between sitting on our hands and launching something close to all-out war? Sure there was. We could've done what we did for Eastern Europe, which helped bring victory in the Cold War: verbal support and financial support for dissidents and democrats. Make clear which side we're on, but without overpromising. It sounds like the opposite of "Speak softly and carry a big stick," and in a way, it is. But it worked to defeat communism, and our track record with bigger ambitions in smaller situations has not been impressive.
-- Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: President Obama speaks about Libya in a news conference in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Jason Reed / Reuters