If there existed any remaining doubt that Barack Obama has completed his conversion from an anti-Iraq war candidate to a presidential hawk, it was eviserated this weekend when the United States launched a series of military strikes on Libya.
The president has now increased the number of foreign wars in which America is involved, not decreased that number. He's continued to fund troops in Iraq, escalated the war in Afghanistan and now bombed a third Muslim country. On foreign policy, at least, Barack Obama is indistinguishable from a neo-conservative. He's practically a member of "Team America: World Police" (minus the accidental destruction of the Eiffel Tower).
Trey Parker and Matt Stone now should be considered prescient: It doesn't matter who the president is, he will adopt the same interventionist foreign policy.
But Obama's complete conversion is surprising to anyone who remembers his pre-presidency anti-war statements.
In 2002, he argued against the Iraq war, saying he knows "Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military is a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history."
Simply substitute the name "Saddam" with "Gadhafi" and the word "Iraqi" with "Libyan" and the exact same argument applies in the current situation.
Obama's apparent change in mindset is one reason why the Libya bombing has caught many people off guard. Liberal members of congress seem to feel betrayed. Louis Farrakhan is cursing at the president. The Arab League, China and Russia are condemning the bombing campaign. Predictably, Republicans are also speaking out against the president's action. Strangely, only Gadhafi -- who puzzlingly calls Obama "a son" -- seems at peace with the decision.
"I have said to you before, that even if Libya and the United States of America enter into a war, god forbid, you will always remain a son," Gadhafi wrote to Obama before the air strikes began.
Locally, those who opposed the Iraq war are now finding themselves opposing Obama's bombs.
"The question is will people of Faith/conscience do what we need to which is confront Obama with the same intensity that we confronted Bush," wrote the Pleasant Hope Baptist Church Pastor Heber Brown III on Twitter.
Granted, the president has good humanitarian reasons for intervening in Libya (just as President Bush did when intervening in Iraq, President Clinton did in Bosnia and President Kennedy did in Vietnam), namely stopping an authoritarian ruler from brutally putting down a rebellion in his country.
And I'm not saying the president is wrong. I don't know whether the U.S. intervention will make the situation more or less deadly (and that should be the standard: Are we helping or are we hurting?). I can't predict the future, but our track record when intervening in foreign civil wars is spotty at best.
But what I do know is this: it's wildly inconsistent with how we treat other countries in the world. Governments the world over are suppressing opposition groups, oftentimes violently. (See: Turkey, where the military has crushed thousands of Kurdish rebels; Bahrain, where protesters are also being killed; the Ivory Coast, where the army has fired on peaceful protestors and committed "politically motivated rapes." And that's not to mention the well-known oppression of governments in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, etc.)
It's time for congress to ask tough questions of the administration: Why Libya and not the Ivory Coast? Why Libya and not a dozen other countries? Actually, let's take this one step further: It's time for the executive branch to actually consult congress (you know, like the Constitution says) before conducting military strikes. We need answers for these inconsistencies. Might we be dismayed to learn that our government's hard-line humanitarianism applies only to countries with whom we do not have strategic alliances?
That said, now that we've started down this path, I hope we're successful. The last thing the country needs is another protracted war on a different continent. As U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at West Point on Friday: "Any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined."
Well said, Mr. Gates.
In the movie, "Team America: World Police," the running joke is that no matter how noble the heros' intentions, they end up creating more destruction than the terrorists would have in the first place.
Let's just hope that, in trying to fix Libya, life doesn't end up imitating comedy.
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