Months before the invasion of Iraq was ordered by President George W. Bush, I took exception to the administration’s argument that it was in our national interest to use force against Saddam Hussein due to his alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction.” During several television appearances on CNN and the Fox News Channel, I reiterated my concern that the Bush administration had not made a convincing argument for the deployment of troops and that its claim that Hussein had WMD’s was questionable. The NorthStar News website, then known as TheNorthstarNetwork.com, also published several editorials opposing U.S. military intervention in Iraq. It appears we are on the verge of making a similar mistake in Libya. It is why I am troubled by the Obama administration’s decision to authorize the U.S. to join in the bombing of Libya.
Like President Bush before him, President Obama is declaring implicitly by ordering U.S. air strikes in Libya that it is in our national interest to take action against the leader of a foreign nation. The problem for me is that I am no longer clear what defines America’s national interest. What we do know about Gaddafi is that he has been on our radar, and that of some of our allies, for some time; particularly after the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. As horrific as that incident was, we can’t allow the type of vindictiveness we saw toward Saddam Hussein drive our motivations in Libya against Gaddafi. Since the Vietnam War, the United States has engaged in an expansionist policy of military engagement in external conflicts that only tangentially have some bearing on our national security. Ironically, the prior administration could justify the engagement in Afghanistan due to the direct connection to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, but lost all credibility when it took an ideologically driven detour toward Iraq. It is now hard to justify the continuing loss of life, military and civilian, and the expenditure of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan against more pressing needs at home.
It is disappointing to think that this President might have been seduced by the myth of presidential greatness through military might. Despite his fervent philosophical opposition to the engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama appears to romanticize himself as the noble warrior in authorizing our military to engage in the bombing of Libya. This is no defense of Moammar Gaddafi, despite the Libyan leader’s past support of African leaders and his visible allegiance with the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela against apartheid in South Africa. One thing that is apparent to me is that in many African countries the will of the people has been muted and the oppressed are beginning to rise up against leadership that has enriched itself on the backs of the indigent population. Some have suggested that the current uprisings in countries such as Egypt and Libya are the orchestration of agent provocateurs. However, it seems to me that at some point the oppressed will make their voices heard without any provocation. I think we are witnessing the pent-up frustrations of the masses that yes, can be exploited by outside forces but are legitimate expressions of discontent nonetheless.
Though President Obama deserves some credit for respecting the role of the United Nations, he still could have pursued other options prior to the use of force. For instance, the President could have chosen to engage the African Union and Arab League directly and used those groups as leverage to persuade Gaddafi to refrain from setting his military upon Libyan protesters. Though it is not clear to me who these “rebels” are, though Gaddafi insists they are al Qaeda operatives, one thing is certain - civilians are sure to be killed by either Gaddafi’s forces or foreign forces bombing the country. As always, innocent blood, including that of children, is sacrificed for the self-righteous posturing of political leadership.
The one glimmer of hope is the insistence by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that U.S. involvement will not be “preeminent” in a coalition of allied and NATO forces. Still, the lessons of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan is that once in, leaving is difficult as a practical consideration and a challenge politically once the testosterone starts flowing on Capitol Hill. Already, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), whose judgment should be called into question after leading the inquisition of Muslim Americans in a House Homeland Security Committee hearing, has taken to the altar of “national interest,” in defending U.S. military action in Libya. Americans must challenge the cheerleaders for war before we are again playing a game we cannot win.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.