Since the uprisings in the Middle East and the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have pushed the problems of the American worker and the U.S. economy off the news, I feel compelled as someone who was deeply involved in the Iraq War to stake out my position on the actions in Libya.
As I watched a ruthless and probably unbalanced leader using his military and mercenaries against his own people, my heart went out to the people of Libya. I believe that caring people everywhere should support an international effort to stop the bloodletting. I believe that President Obama has acted wisely in authorizing the current campaign of enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya.
President Obama followed a deliberative process of considering the views of his military, Secretary Gates and Head of the Joint Chiefs Mullen, who were not in favor and his civilian leaders, notably Secretary of State Clinton, who were in favor. He waited until the United Nations acted and most importantly the Arab League supported action against Qaddafi. He selected a strategy which is designed to minimize both our military casualties and Libyan civilian casualties, and he is deferring leadership (at least on paper) to the Europeans. He has made it clear that we will not commit ground forces and will not create another quagmire. This strategy is of course not perfect and not guaranteed to succeed. But in this imperfect world it is the best course of action under the very difficult circumstances.
It can be argued that no-fly zones have not been perfect solutions in the past because of civilian casualties in Iraq and the inability to stop ground-based atrocities in Bosnia. However, at least for the moment, we have stopped what appeared to be the eminent annihilation of the Libyan resistance.
Some question why Libya and not Bahrain or Yemen and cite cynical reasons such as Libyan oil or friendly dictators vs unfriendly dictators. The real reason is much simpler: the world opinion is raised against Libya at the moment and we must act in concert with the rest of the world.
Others question if this is truly a humanitarian effort and isn't at least in part an opportunistic move to put a whole lot of oil into more friendly hands. I cannot fully disagree with this sentiment but I also argue that the U.S. and Europe have a legitimate right to defend their interests.
All this is not to say that a commitment of this magnitude should not be debated at the highest levels. Unfortunately, the sort of non-partisan debate which would best serve our country has not been forthcoming. The many Republicans who are running unannounced candidacies to replace Obama are for the most part criticizing Obama the person without presenting ideas or solutions. The Democrats can usually be counted on for a healthy debate on policy within their own ranks and Representative Dennis Kucinich has acted in that tradition in questioning the President's skirting of Congress in making his decision. However, Kucinich has made a serious mistake in bringing up impeachment. This suggestion is concerning and takes time away from what could and should be a serious policy debate.
In this very uncertain time, we are fortunate to have a leader who has the patience to consider all alternatives, the credibility to build international support and the confidence to assert his policy.
One wishes for an appropriate and speedy exit for Gaddafi saving us from him fulfilling his prophetic threat of fighting to his death.
Written in collaboration with Frank Suttell and advice from Phyllis Bennis
For more information about my work as a progressive activist go here.