Obama Makes Clear In Speech He Is Not George W. Bush And Libya Is Not Iraq
In Monday night’s address detailing his rationale for committing the American military to fight Qaddafi’s forces in Libya, President Obama took pains to draw distinctions between his current and George W. Bush’s 2003 decision-making, which launched the disastrous War in Iraq. First, the president tried to make the case that his response to events showed no Bush-era impulsivity. Rather, it’s been sober and measured:
…we evacuated our embassy and all Americans who sought our assistance. Then we took a series of swift steps in a matter of days to answer Qaddafi’s aggression. We froze more than $33 billion of Qaddafi’s regime’s assets. Joining with other nations at the United Nations Security Council, we broadened our sanctions, imposed an arms embargo, and enabled Qaddafi and those around him to be held accountable for their crimes. I made it clear that Qaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead, and I said that he needed to step down from power.
Next, he said that the decision to intervene militarily came only after it was apparent the Libyan dictator, having already killed a number of rebels, was about to embark on a campaign of slaughter:
Cities and towns were shelled, mosques were destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assaults from the air…At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Qaddafi declared he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we have seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we wanted — if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.
Obama then went on at length about what he vowed was an already-defined limited role for the United States in Libya. It was clear that he felt this distinction the most important part of his address, as he sought to tell the nation, ‘bluntly,’ this: I’m not George W. Bush, and this isn’t Iraq.
The task that I assigned our forces -– to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger, and to establish a no-fly zone -– carries with it a U.N. mandate and international support. It’s also what the Libyan opposition asked us to do. If we tried to overthrow Qaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.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.
Say what you will, and you must, about the mission in Libya, or how it resembles other military campaigns, or what its true goals might be. Surely, there needs to be a more robust discussion about the proper role for American military power, if any, in a troubled region, in a troubled world. But, of Obama, I think we can fairly say he did hit his targets: the looming specters of George W. Bush and the Iraq War.Click here for reuse options!
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