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In the Name of Responsibility

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Ten days after President Barack Hussein Obama unilaterally launched an unconstitutional war on Libya, Admiral Michael Mullen reported that only twenty-five percent of Colonel Gaddhafi's forces had been wiped out, embroiling the United States in a conflict that will perhaps last months longer. Pro-Gaddhafi forces still have ten times the firepower of the rebels; there is no sign that Gaddhafi will be relenting anytime soon, despite the President's assurances that it would be "a matter of days and not a matter of weeks."

Although the United States and its allies secured United Nations Security Council approval for the attack (albeit with the abstentions of India, China, Germany, and Russia), President Obama failed to obtain Congress' support for the operation -- compulsory, given the fact that the Commander-in-Chief has no constitutional authority to wage war in another country in the absence of an actual or imminent threat. Obama failed to provide any evidence that Gaddhafi posed such a threat to US national security. This renders the war unconstitutional.

While good-natured proponents of military intervention in Libya argued in favor of humanitarian interests, Obama's decision to illegally intervene in Libya remains perplexing. Human rights activists had promoted military intervention in other crises as well: Bahrain, notable because of its apparent similarity to the situation at hand, and Sudan, because of the much greater humanitarian crisis it represents. In contrast to unconstitutional, immediate, and unhesitating military action in Lybia, what explains Obama's initial hesitancy in condemning the ruthless Egyptian tyrant, Hosni Mubarak? What explains his turning a blind eye to the Bahraini regime as they murdered hundreds of innocents? Does Obama seek humanitarian interests alone in Libya?

The situation is even more perplexing because Obama has chosen to act under the name of "international responsibility," at the expense of national progress. For the sake of "responsibility," the US spent $225 million within five days. A fully established no-fly zone will cost up to $800 million, in addition to $1 million a week afterward. We have chosen to allot resources to a supposed threat that the President is incapable of substantiating except by ambiguously humanitarian reasons, for an indefinite period of time. Professor Stephen M. Walt of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government rightly suggests, "And who's the big winner here? Back in Beijing, China's leaders must be smiling as they watch Washington walk open-eyed into another potential quagmire."

The war in Iraq has cost the United States more than 4,500 American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and more than $650 billion since May 2003. There is no indication that we will be leaving the scene anytime soon. On a smaller scale, the war in Afghanistan initially cost $21 billion in 2001 and 2002; since 2003, the cost has risen to more than $300 billion and the projected cost by the end of 2011 may rise to as much as $450 billion. That's a total of $1.1 trillion. And this is not even taking into account the military operations in Pakistan and Yemen, operations that are costing thousands of innocent lives in addition to the billions of dollars spent. And then, to add to this massive spending, we have decided to take on another "project" -- one that may end up costing $1 billion before it is through, a billion dollars that may have been much better spent on education, research, and nation-building at home.

Budget cuts continue to prey on public schools, school sports teams, and libraries. In February 2011, Detroit ordered half of its public schools to be closed in order to balance the district budget. This act will increase the size of the average class to 60 students. Providence issued pink slips to 2,000 teachers for a similar reason. This is all occurring in the face of continued military spending. Given what the government clearly chooses to emphasize, Obama's continued insistence that education be shielded in the budget-cutting battles on Capitol Hill seems meaningless. Education, research, even police departments are suffering from the lack of available funds. And somehow, we find it wise to get involved in yet another conflict.

The United States must ready itself to handle the new challenges that lie ahead. As the twenty-first century progresses, new powers will compel the US to play on fields that we will be unfamiliar with. Our people are not educated and we are trillions of dollars in debt. We lack education, technology, and rather than develop, we find ourselves embroiled in conflict after conflict -- the roots of which also lie in our own imprudence. If we are to face up to the challenge, the myths of American exceptionalism, American exemption from moral standards, and of American immunity to decay must be put to rest.

Those who advocate "international responsibility," hardly ever mean that "international responsibility" should supersede national progress. Indeed, we tend to advocate international responsibility for the sake of national progress. Here, both of the aims expressed above are being violated. By continuing military operations in various countries across the world (and, indeed, increasing them since Obama's term), we are making ourselves more susceptible to attacks in the name of revenge. How long will our despotism last? Furthermore, the cost of these operations is staggering in terms of American dollars and American lives. How much longer can we sustain them?

The progress of democracy in the Middle East is the perfect antidote to the ideology of al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorist groups: not only do radical groups tend towards moderation through introduction to mainstream politics, but having an independent political voice rids individuals of a desire to turn to extreme means. Aiding such democratization is also in our interest. But have we really no other means of aid than military ones? In an op-ed in the NYT, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, states that the first thing that ought to be done is to facilitate the return of the billions of dollars toppled tyrants had stowed away in foreign accounts. Next, he suggests that we ought to aid the development of these economies by encouraging tourism. Lastly, he suggests focusing on employment and market growth, encouraging domestic and foreign businesses to lead the way in training and employing youth.

It is difficult to discern exactly how our militant form of "responsibility" improves our capability to compete with the rising nations of the world. We are sacrificing national progress. Democracy in the Middle East is indispensable for regional stability and our own national security; however, military intervention at such a high cost is imprudent, and unjust to our own people. Militarily involved in six countries and trillions of dollars in debt, the United States should not be engaging in any kind of action that further cripples our own nation. If we choose to help, for reasonable purposes, there are more productive and necessary avenues available.