Driving home from Eureka this afternoon I listened to the speech. At first I listened through KGOE, but the liberal talk show host Karel kept injecting his sarcastic commentary (he is among the portion of the left which opposes the intervention) and it was hard to hear the speech itself. So I switched to one of the right wing stations until I couldn’t get it anymore, and then I realized it would probably be on NPR (quick note – NPR is obviously trying to play for Republican sympathy – two out of the three post-game analysis came from Republicans who said pretty much the same thing). The speech did in fact formally outline the Obama Doctrine – a revival of JFK of sorts. I break the doctrine (as it differs from the Bush doctrine) into three points.
2. Humanitarian based intervention (“values” he referenced several times in addition to interests)
3. Military engagement which is only a subset of the overall policy objectives and not totally ultimate goals based (nuance).
This is a very liberal doctrine of interventionism. Basically, Obama deliberated with his advisers, and opted for what the warrior women pushed, and through some remarkable diplomacy obtained the right combo of support and abstentions from other countries (getting Russia and China to abstain at the UN Security Council, getting the Arab League behind it, and the ultimate coup of getting Ankara behind NATO involvement). Yes, Russia and Turkey will trot out obligatory objections, but it’s for constituency cover. Clinton and team put together something no Republican administration could have accomplished. Qater and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the enforcement of UN resolution. There are no mass demonstrations, domestically nor abroad. The left is divided and tentative. So is the right.
The concept of humanitarian intervention is revived from the Kennedy doctrine. Since then we’ve always spoken in terms of “vital US interests” and the like. But Obama’s people saw a unique opportunity here to prevent carnage of a city numbered at 700,000 residents, and they got some help from Gaddafy himself who promised “no mercy, no pity” going “house to house, door to door.” It may secretly be about oil or whatever. But the stated objective is the prevention of genocide, and the difficulty opponents have from both left and right is that there is little doubt that the attacks which began a week ago last Saturday prevented a massacre of unthinkable scale.
On NPR tonight, the House Armed Services Committee Chair (I think his name is Mike Rogers or Mike Jones – I’ll look it up later) lamented that Obama focused on the humanitarian basis and left out the WMDs in Gaddafy’s arsenal. Go figure! This is an anomaly in that the whole humanitarian military intervention basis sub-doctrine is opposed by many conservatives – not just the isolationist culture-war quasi-libertarian Tea Party folk, but even some of the military industrial complex elite spokespeople who want to emphasize military and economic interests. They don’t like Obama’s frame. They hate it in fact.
(More below the fold)
The last point is where the political fight is going to center. Already the Republicans (and even some conventional hawk Democrats) are slamming Obama for the lack of a “plan” or “clear goal.” The policy is a little complicated. The overall policy objective is the end of the Qaddafi regime. The focus of the current military campaign is more limited – the protection of the civilians (and yes, the rebel force – which Obama doesn’t bother to distinguish).
Rogers or Jones or whoever he is laments that we do not have an “end game” in place, because Obama is not drawing a road map to the Qaddafi ouster. He believes that Obama is creating a “new Hussein” with a regime which will last for years under the no-fly zone as Hussein did.
The demand for an end-game explanation fair game, because the left has made similar demands of Bush (similarly ignored). But we don’t know what contacts Obama has in the Qaddafi military, nor the intelligence in terms of likely defections and a strategy to divide and conquer. Obviously Obama can’t discuss it. The Republicans know it, but they will make what they can of it. They will attack nuance as indecision, and the idea that military policy is not completely congruent with regime change objective is weakness under their doctrine. Obama isn’t taking it passively. Tonight he said
To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.
Obama’s gambit is to use the no-fly zone and civilian protection mandate to weaken the regime and give the rebellion breathing room to consolidate, organize, and obtain the weapons it needs. Obama thinks the particular intervention can be effective in tipping the balance (today’s news bodes well for his gamble, but it’s a long way to Tripoli). The difference between Iraq mid-90s and Libya today? A well-developed rebellion with popular backing. If the rebels approach to put Tripoli under siege, there will probably be resistance cells within the city unless Qaddafi has managed to flush them out already. And there may be regime military brass who decide they don’t want to go down with the ship. I am assuming that Obama, who doesn’t move an inch without overkill in planning, has a sense of the potential and decided this was a good gamble. It could make or break his Presidency (although David Korn thinks it will fade into “background noise” if there aren’t many American casualties).
As I’ve already written about, the left is divided. So too is the right. You’ve got McCain, Lieberman, and Lugar (who’ve never met a war they don’t like) who will criticize Obama on the particulars, but will support the policy nonetheless. And you have Bohnior, Bachman, and Congressional Republicans who will oppose the policy because it is Obama’s. And you have Gingrich who can’t make up his mind what he thinks. But the opposition and reluctant support is more than just opposition to Obama. The prospect of a successful Obama Doctrine removal of a dictator that half a dozen predecessor Presidents could not eliminate scares them crapless. The precedent of multi-lateralism would put every Republican President at a disadvantage for years to come. They’re freaking out on Fox as I type. Greta Van Sustern is gritting her teeth at the word “nuance,” and she can’t get Palin off her talking points to address the questions. Bolton is hedging his bets, trying to argue that if Obama is successful it’s because he’s lucky and because of how great our forces are.
I have to admit that I’m uneasy about a “values” based military intervention policy. Yes, the intervention prevented the Benghazi massacre. But I would be more comfortable with much less subjectivity. An Obama Doctrine in place would have freed Bush up – no need to manufacture a WMD crisis. Obama did outline some elements for an action – an imminent catastrophe with reasonable prospects for prevention. But I am concerned about the long term precedent.
You can read the whole speech through this link.