Libya a serious test for Obama

President Barack Obama returns a Marine honor guard salute as he steps off Marine One upon returning to the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 8, 2011, after traveling to education and fundraising events in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

A month shy of his election in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama outlined a doctrine for American military force that included crises in which the United States has a “moral obligation” to intervene. As commander in chief, he soon will have to decide whether Libya fits the bill.

Obama is facing the sternest test yet of his philosophy of humanitarian intervention, which he has described as an imperative to prevent atrocities against civilians.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi‘s brutal suppression of protests and crackdown on opponents to his 42-year rule may fall short of Obama’s criteria for military action, but the president’s most senior advisers are to meet Wednesday to outline what steps are realistic and possible to pressure Gadhafi to halt the violence and give up power.

The discussion at the White House was to examine the ramifications of a no-fly zone over Libya and other potential military options, although the final decision will rest with Obama, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.

In a no-fly zone operation over all or part of Libya, the U.S. or partner nations would patrol with warplanes to deter Gadhafi from using his air force to bomb civilians. Targeted aerial assaults, with planes or missiles, are another possibility.

Gadhafi claimed Wednesday that a no-fly zone would lead Libyans to understand that the foreigners’ aim was to seize oil and take their freedom away. If that happened, he said, “Libyans will take up arms and fight.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, national security adviser Tom Donilon and CIA Director Leon Panetta were among those expected to attend Wednesday’s White House meeting, the officials said. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is abroad, but a top Pentagon official will attend in his place.

The Obama administration has little enthusiasm for military intervention in Libya or for the no-fly zone in particular. Gates has said that beginning the flights would require an assault on Libyan air defenses, a step tantamount to war, and other officials have noted that the tactic may be ineffective in part because Gadhafi appears to be using his planes sparingly. Nonetheless, a no-fly zone has become the best-known option and the one that European allies, in particular, consider an effective international response.

In an interview Tuesday with CBS News, Clinton stressed that any authorization of a no-fly zone must come from the United Nations Security Council.

“There is still a lot of opposition … within the Security Council. But we are working to come up with a good solid international package,” Clinton said in the interview, broadcast Wednesday on “The Early Show.”

She added, “We think it’s important that there be international support and there be a broad acceptance by the international community, particularly the Arab world, that something needs to be done on behalf of the opposition in Libya.”

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell indicated Wednesday that the U.S. was unlikely to make a decision this week on any military action.

“This issue is increasingly moving into the political and diplomatic realms,” Morrell told reporters traveling with Gates to Stuttgart, Germany, for a change-of-command ceremony.

Two and a half years ago, candidate Obama called for action even when “we may not always have national security issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake.” He even spoke about how the establishment of no-fly zones could prevent attacks on innocent civilians.

“When genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us,” Obama said in October 2008 in his second presidential debate with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “We have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible.”

So far, Obama is talking tough. He has demanded Gadhafi move aside so that the democratic transitions like those gripping neighboring Tunisia and Egypt can get under way in Libya. And he has vowed that the international community will hold senior Libyan officials accountable for their crimes.

Yet his words have yet to be backed by forceful action. And it’s unclear whether Libya’s crisis is so extreme that it meets his criteria for a U.S. attack. Gadhafi’s crackdown may be cruel, but it falls far short of genocide. And Obama has always offered words of caution.

“Understand that there’s a lot of cruelty around the world,” Obama noted in the debate with McCain. “We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time.”

Asked about his doctrine again last week, Obama said he would examine the “full range of options,” from diplomatic to military responses.

“I don’t want us hamstrung,” he told reporters at a news conference.

But, he stressed at the same time, decisions would aim to secure the “best for the Libyan people” and be made in consultation with key allies abroad. The U.S. already has led international efforts to block assets linked to the Libyan government and punish those closest to Gadhafi. Still, he allowed that may not be enough to head off a bloody stalemate.

Obama spoke Tuesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron and the two agreed that their common objective was “an immediate end to brutality and violence,” as well as Gadhafi’s speedy departure and an eventual transition to democracy, a White House statement said.

Constraining the administration are questions over the support and presumed efficacy of various military options.

Britain and France are pushing for the U.N. to create a no-fly zone over Libya, and while the U.S. may be persuaded to sign on, such a move is unlikely to win the backing of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, which traditionally object to such steps as infringements on national sovereignty.

At home, there is pushback from U.S. military leaders who are trying to wind down long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and don’t want to plunge into another conflict in the Muslim world. Some in the administration don’t want to be burdened with the costs and logistical challenge in enforcing the no-fly zone. And there are questions over its usefulness against a Libyan army that is mostly fighting on the ground or with hard-to-detect helicopters.

The same domestic and international challenges certainly would affect a bolder military response, from U.S. airstrikes to the remote possibility of a ground invasion. They also would affect any attempt to arm the rebels fighting Gadhafi’s forces.

The U.S. could simply offer a greater show of military force a dozen miles off the Libyan coast, possibly moving ships into international waters in the Gulf of Sidra. Surveillance flights, intelligence gathering and ongoing support for evacuations and humanitarian assistance are other softer military options.

If the president sticks to the campaign doctrine he outlined — in that instance, he was talking about mass deaths in Sudan’s Darfur region — he may not be able to promise much of anything militarily against Gadhafi.

“We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us,” Obama said. “But we can only do it if we can help mobilize the international community and lead. And that’s what I intend to do when I’m president.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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3 Responses to "Libya a serious test for Obama"

  1. Fivebyfives  March 9, 2011 at 11:40 am

    What serious test has this man passed in the last two years? The media bubble blather ad nauseum over Obama’s speech in Tucson; a tragedy brutally perpetrated by a single man upon over a dozen victums. President Obama was a national Mr. Rogers for a day. Frankly, I consider his actions as using a brutal tragedy to improve his image.

    I think if was Josef Stalin who said, “Kill one man and it’s murder. Kill a million and it’s a statistic.” President Obama is not a cold-blooded mass murderer like Stalin, but the end result is a parallel. We are in a critically contentious time, with dire consequences of a rudderless ship already upon us. We elect leaders, not consolers. President Obama’s modus operandi appears to be to stay within the crowd, unnoticed if possible, until an opportunity arises whereby he can step forward to shine the spotlight on……..himself.

    Otherwise, he’s a groundhog, looking out of his burrow, stunned by all the acrimohy and strife, condescendingly lecturing the warring parties that compromise is necessary. Then he crawls back into his warren, waiting for the next opportunity to shine the light on his obvious brillance.

    This would be like Lincoln strutting onto the battlefield at Gettysburg a few minutes prior to Picket’s Charge with a white flag demanding the two sides compromise, etc. There is a fundamental failure here in President Obama’s judgment of human interaction. Unsavory as it sounds, there are situations in human events where compromise has been left long in the wake. Right or wrong, two sides are going to be in it to the end and those involved are LED by some man or woman who inspires them to excel at what they do to ensure a victory of some sorts.

    Sometimes one has to be a son of a bitch; ruthless in order to ensure an end to a tragedy. That is PART of statesmanship and any student of history can see this clearly.

    What’s going on in Libya requires this: leadership and backbone. In 2008 the American people badly needed a transformational person, and thought they’d found him in Barack Obama. The Libyan people only have to look at how this president’s decisiveness and leadership within his own country to realize that they are on their own.

    • Carl Nemo  March 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm

      “Barack Obama outlined a doctrine for American military force that included crises in which the United States has a “moral obligation” to intervene. As commander in chief, he soon will have to decide whether Libya fits the bill.” …extract from article

      Where do these guys and their advisers dream this stuff up? We have no business in Libya. Let the smug Euro’s along with NATO take care of the problem. We get about 1% of our oil from Libya whereas Europe gets the bulk so they should be sweating bullets. The Euro is back up again against the dollar giving them more purchasing power at the pump than us who are now suffering under the engineered inflation of Bernanke & Co. and a contrived oil shortage on the part of producers along with large deep pocket speculators who are driving the price up again by laying on long futures contracts against both oil and unleaded gas. They borrow the money cheaply from the government compared to the average citizen thenuse the money to speculate. They did the same prior to the bust in 2008 running oil up to $140 bbl then a swoon to $40 as these crooks unwound their positions in the oil and gasoline futures markets proving again it’s all smoke an mirrors or more simply known as bullsh*t as usual.

      So let’s say rioting breaks out in China are we going be steaming about off their coast with a battle group threatening to intervene? I think not because the Chinese will kick our butts or at least damage us mightily. They’ll sink the fleet and send what’s been captured back as scrap to the U.S. as they’ve done in the past concerning a US Navy EP-3 surveillance plane in 2001 under Bushco’s watch. We effectively ate crow then with Don Rumsfeld breaking off ‘military contacts’ with China for some time. What, no more tours through Los Alamos so high level PRC officers and their aides can take snapshots of unrefreshed screens and unerased chalkboard diagrams, equations or whatever in order to steal even more nuclear weps technology as they did under Clinton’s watch and seemingly beyond?

      Ref: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/chinese-vessels-harassed-us-navy-ship-1640814.html

      The U.S. is like 250 lb corner bully that’s only cleared to pick on 100 lb Girl Scouts but if it’s a major trading partner or has parity in a nuclear sense then we’ve learned to “eat crow”. Obama & Co. will probably try an Operation El Dorado Canyon schtick as Reagan/H.W. Bush pulled off in 1986 in response to a Berlin discotheque bombing earlier in that year. So seemingly we’ll even go to war over a terrorist attack on a nightclub. Yeah, we got’em told…no?! Has the world changed any? Gadhafi is still around, evidently no different than Saddam as our duty whipping boy until his utility seemingly fizzled out relative to our ‘planners’ sitting on the NSC (National Security Council). No doubt the MIC is slavering over more money to be made off another ‘tempest in a teapot’ crisis in Libya…no?

      Maybe if our leadership became seriously concerned about “We the People” instead of having their collective noses buried up dictators’ butts worldwide while “Big Sister” Hillary pitches our hard earned tax dollars to the same then maybe we could have some forward motion on the domestic playing field. Fie on them all…! : |

      Carl Nemo **==

  2. jim0001  March 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Walking upright is a serious challenge for this empty suit….

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