Obama’s Libyan “Mission Accomplished” Moment

March 28th, 2011 at 8:58 pm David Frum | 104 Comments |

| Print

“I hope you are not merely pretending to be wicked, while being secretly good. That would be hypocrisy.”

As written and delivered, President Obama’s speech on Libya was preposterous.

We intervened in the midst of somebody else’s civil war. We saved one side from losing, prevented another side from winning. Now we’re declaring “mission accomplished” in the middle of the battle. If the president’s message is taken seriously, he has exposed us to the resentment and revenge of one side, while failing to earn the gratitude of the other. If the president’s message is taken seriously, America’s goals in Libya were to perpetuate an ongoing civil war without achieving any stable end-state.

The optimistic interpretation of the president’s speech is that he was engaging in a little statesmanlike hypocrisy.

The optimistic interpretation is this:

“My fellow Americans. I attach great importance to the endorsement of the so-called international community. The UN Security Council Resolution authorized NATO to stop Qaddafi. Qaddafi is stopped. I recognize as well as you that this is a dangerous and untenable status quo. Don’t worry, it won’t be the status quo for long. We’re working now with diplomacy, with covert operations and with the threat of the resumption of force to persuade those around Qaddafi to overthrow and kill him. And of course the French and the British are still waging war. Qaddafi’s time will be short. When that time ends, we’ll pretend to be totally surprised. Who us? Responsible? Oh no – we were just enforcing a no-fly zone.”

The pessimistic interpretation is that the president means what he says – that he thinks his mission stops at freezing some dividing line between warring Libyan factions and leaving somebody – NATO? the UN? – to police that line for weeks, months, maybe years to come.

I’d like to believe the optimistic scenario. But there are warning signs here that the pessimistic is more plausible. The most ominous of the warning signs was his comment about Iraq. Why reargue that war now? Answer: to justify cutting short the commitment to Libya. Obama’s problem is that the moment to take that position was before the Libyan intervention. If he truly did not think the outcome in Libya mattered – if he had been willing to live with a Qaddafi victory – then he could have hung back and allowed events to proceed. But having committed American power to the war, he committed America inescapably to the outcome. If that outcome is a divided, war-torn country, President Obama will not escape responsibility because he only used American airpower. And if he truly is haunted by a determination not to repeat the Iraq war of 2003, he needs to remember that America won itself few friends with its indefinite policing and punishing of Iraq in the 1990s.


Recent Posts by David Frum



104 Comments so far ↓

  • nwahs

    “Actually I thought he laid out the complexity reasonably well and explained we have limited liabiliy approach with a way out. Are you suggesting we’re going to invade Libya? If not what are you suggesting has just started. Tell us do?”

    He laid out a humanitarian mission and it you believe that for a second I have some land in Darfur to sell you. Whether it be boots on the ground, arms or covert ops, there is no way to leave with a stable Libya.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “Frum’s got very valid points.”

    He would if he were in fact opposed to intervention in Libya. He is not. He published an article called “Why Obama Must Intervene in Libya” about three weeks ago, arguing not merely for a no-fly but for a full-on regime change.

    What he is doing now is simply trying to have his cake and eat it too. He supports war in Libya, but still wants to take pot-shots at Obama for conducting it not in the exact manner that Frum would prefer.

    • abk1985

      Well, I opposed anything but a surgical DMZ around Benghazi, and that only if we did it as an emergency until others could take our place. We’re busy elsewhere.

      So all this means is that I ask Frum what I ask Obama: If you want the USA to be the world’s policeman, where’s the money, and where’s the recruits? Be consistent and demand the draft, and be consistent and demand tax hikes. Otherwise, END these wars and STOP STARTING THEM.

      (Of course, we know the American people would never support these policies. That’s why this war is being fought through the back door. Good job, Barry. You won’t get my vote next time.)

    • Sunny

      “He would if he were in fact opposed to intervention in Libya. He is not. He published an article called “Why Obama Must Intervene in Libya” about three weeks ago, arguing not merely for a no-fly but for a full-on regime change.”

      I know, and I vehemently disagreed with him at that time.

      However, that my disagreement with his conclusion does not invalidate the points he used to reach it. Basically, I didn’t think he gave enough consideration to the real-life exhaustion of the standing military and their families, our economy, and what it would do to conflicts we’re currently engaged in.

      Which, as it happens, is why I actually agree with most of the points he raises here. Because if you look at the link I provided, this doesn’t look like protection of Benghazi, but air support of a rebel advance into areas which are pro-Qaddafi. Which means, if true, that we’re backing into a far wider conflict than I ever would have countenanced (and for the reasons mentioned) — and on that, I agree with Frum in principle as well. If you’re going to go to war, you say you are, say why you are, and commit. If you can’t do that, you don’t do it at all.

  • nuser

    what a fractured mind!

  • sublime33

    ” Good job, Barry. You won’t get my vote next time.”

    Next time? I don’t think anyone who refers to the president as “Barry” ever voted for him the first time around.

  • nuser

    “as Barry”…….
    excellent point.

    • abk1985

      Tsk, Tsk. If I hadn’t voted for him, I would have called him “Barack Hussein”. Yeah, I voted for him. But thanks for not responding to the issues, and changing the subject. That just goes to show how impoverished his fevered defenders have become.

      The only good thing BARRY did as president was end the torture. He did nothing about Iraq, he actually escalated the war in Afghanistan, with kids getting killed every few days (“We’re SO sorry! It was an ACCIDENT!”), and with body part souvenir hunters running around in AMERICAN uniforms.

      He FAILED to close Gitmo, he FAILED to either investigate, or truth and reconcile, or prosecute any of the members of the previous admin, he has FAILED to do anything about prisoner maltreatment (Pvt Manning, where are you?), he has FAILED to improve the economy (not really his job, but, hey, people vote their pocketbooks), he has FAILED to increase taxes or reduce the deficit, and CREATED a national health plan that (surprise!) is not going to “pay for itself” thereby increasing the deficit and the debt, he has FAILED to do anything about illegal immigration, and so on and so on.

      NOW he has started a war with Hilary Clinton, although, actually, it looks like he went on vacation to Rio and let Hilary start the war all by herself, I mean, hey, who cares. Congress? Why should we consult congress? But we’ll talk to that feckless Sarkozy.

      Either we end these wars or we re-start the draft. I know some young guys who have severe PTSD symptoms from multiple Af-raq deployments and they need a break, before either they break or they go nuts (witness the recent scandal.) We as a nation cannot keep fighting these wars with frank and honest talk about how much it is costing us in terms of dollars and how much it is costing us in terms of our servicemen and women. Barry doesn’t have the balls to even initiate that conversation. Why? Because, at bottom, he’s a politician like all the rest and he just wants to get re-elected. Well, he won’t be getting my vote again.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    abk1985 // Mar 29, 2011 at 10:59 am

    “Yes of course they do, all the time.”

    So, nations go ahead and provide close air support to rebels in other countries “all the time”, with no actual concern as to whether the rebels win or not? Let’s discuss some examples. Then we can discuss how stupid such a course of action is.

    Bosnia and Kosovo are 2 examples of air support for rebels and both were great successes.

    You obviously are not paying much attention to the facts on the ground in Libya. While the rebel advance is presently stalled at Ras Lanuf, they have to get their own supply lines and logistics in order, Gadhafi’s forces will soon run out of oil, supplies, heavy artillery, etc. Gadhafi only truly controls Tripoli, Sirte, and a few small towns, he had to terrify Zawiya into submission. The major city of Misurata is not in his control, nor a host of southern towns like Zintan. He has no access to oil in the south, and with the arms embargo has no resupply.
    The rebels can literally wait out the clock in Ras Lanuf since they control the bulk of Libya’s oil now.

    The people who are saying it is a stalemate between east and west simply don’t know what they are talking about. Gadhafi is in a box, forced to scurry from hideout to hideout, the Benghazi rebels will only get stronger and more wealthy as they are now beginning the process of exporting oil.

    Provided the allies continue to pound Gadhafi’s artillery and armor it is simply a matter of time before they break, as did Milsovevic before him.

    • Sunny

      “Provided the allies continue to pound Gadhafi’s artillery and armor it is simply a matter of time before they break, as did Milsovevic before him.”

      And then what?

    • abk1985

      There are big differences between Kosovo and Bosnia. Among others:

      #1 – It was a direct threat to European stability, since it took place in EUROPE.
      #2 – It involved secessionists from an artificially created entity (Yugoslavia.)
      #3 – It did not in fact lead to the immediate takedown of the guy who was causing the problems (Milosevic.)
      #4 – The US was not engaged in TWO OTHER wars at the same time.
      #5 – The armed services of the US were not hurting.
      #6 – The economy was not hurting.
      #7 – We were CLEAR in our stance that the secessionists should be allowed to secede. We weren’t playing any word games as we are doing this time around.

      – I could go on, but the cases were very different.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    ABK: (Of course, we know the American people would never support these policies. That’s why this war is being fought through the back door. Good job, Barry. You won’t get my vote next time.)

    Now this is just silliness. The war is not being fought through any back door, it was done with consultations with our NATO allies and at the direct request of the UN. If that counts as a back door in your eyes then your front door must be as wide as the state of Texas.
    And who the hell will you vote for? Ron Paul? Fine, waste your vote. And to pretend a Republican would not have done much more, for example sending in ground troops, then you are being naive to the extreme.

    The clock is ticking for Gadhafi, he has no exports, no resupply, an embargo and sanctions…this is not Iraq with Gadhafi having millions of supporters, right now he controls an area with a population that is but half of Libya and much of it is being ruled by sheer terror, as in Tripoli.

    • abk1985

      Frump: Barry is going through the back door because he repeated JUST LAST NIGHT that we weren’t doign regime change, but, never mind, we are actually (according to you) doing regime change.

      In other words, dishonesty and hypocrisy.

      But, OK, fine. let’s say the rebels win. I have no problem with that. And what are the rebels going to do? Are they going to keep all the oil money? Are they going to share it with those who previously received oil money largesse from Qaddafi? I seriously doubt it. So then you will have a power struggle over the oil and the oil money, which is a large part of what this is all about.

      I outlined three scenarios last night.

      #1 – Qaddafi goes. Fine with me. So who takes over? And who is responsible for a peaceful transition? And what if the transition isn’t peaceful? etc. etc. It better be NATO, it cannot be us.

      #2 – Qaddafi stays. After what the US has done so far, that cannot be. So we have to have regime change, although we cannot be the ones to do it.

      Your outcome depends entirely on the wishful thinking that the rebels are some kind of coherent entity that will rule over Libya in sweetness and light. My guess is that Libya will simply install another strong man and there will be riots in the street. The US should not be involved in this.

      • abk1985

        Frump: Let’s just put it like this.

        #1 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars?

        #2 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars, if the cost of these various wars shall involve an increase in taxes?

        #3 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars, if the cost of these various wars shall involve a re-instatement of the draft?

        #4 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars, without the advice and consent of the Congress?

        – I don’t know how YOU would vote, but I would bet that the American people would vote against each and every one of those propositions. That is why this is a backdoor mission creep war, and that is why Barry and Hilary are done, politically.

      • zephae

        Barry is going through the back door because he repeated JUST LAST NIGHT that we weren’t doign regime change

        BO’s speech: “But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

        http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2011/03/28/Transcript-of-Obama-speech-on-Libya/UPI-45771301359661/#ixzz1I2Dfx4HG

        How many times do you need to misquote the President before you start recognizing pivotal substantive distinctions?

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “Provided the allies continue to pound Gadhafi’s artillery and armor it is simply a matter of time before they break, as did Milosevic before him.”

    And then what?

    It will then be up to the Libyan people to decide what then.
    Look at Serbia after Milosevic, are they a threat to the region? People said then what with regards to Serbia and regime change.

    I simply don’t get this notion that we should support and insane madman who already has killed Americans because…well, because why…some unnamed fear of another insane madman?
    Libya is a small country population wise with great oil resources enough to make everyone rich, Gadhafi has been squandering the countries wealth on a host of schemes in other countries as well as building a huge military machine (that is now being destroyed wholesale).
    What is most likely to happen is the East of Libya will be granted a great deal of autonomy, and there will be a power sharing arrangement at the top, if it doesn’t work, then we will have an eventual partition since there is no chance either side could conquer the other.

    People supported apartheid in South Africa because of that same nonsense of “what then” in a post apartheid South Africa.

    • abk1985

      I simply don’t get this notion that we should support and insane madman

      This is a complete straw man. No is supporting Qaddafi here. The question is why should the US be engaged in regime change. Many people opposed Apartheid for decades without calling for the US to invade South Africa.

  • nhthinker

    Hey Look! AP Fact-Check makes the SAME points as NHTHinker…
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iFWACvAYca3zjwTnnLh1JG8l2Rtw?docId=f1839ff6dd0e4265b2952651c972f4a5

    [i] OBAMA: Seeking to justify military intervention, the president said the U.S. has “an important strategic interest in preventing Gadhafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful — yet fragile — transitions in Egypt and Tunisia.” He added: “I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.”

    THE FACTS: Obama did not wait to make that case to Congress, despite his past statements that presidents should get congressional authorization before taking the country to war, absent a threat to the nation that cannot wait.

    “The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” he told The Boston Globe in 2007 in his presidential campaign. “History has shown us time and again … that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch.”

    Obama’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, said Sunday that the crisis in Libya “was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest.”
    [/i]

    Obamamaniacs continue to ignore the FACTS that are disturbing! Big surprise there!

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Frump: Let’s just put it like this.

    #1 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars?
    This is not a civil war, this is a popular uprising against Moammar Gadhafi…I mean, we are freaking talking about Gadhafi…when you can’t bring yourself to mention that the enemy is Gadhafi you know your argument is freaking weak.
    Gadhafi killed hundreds of Americans by ordering a terrorist bombing of a Pan Am jetliner. Why the hell are you on his side?

    #2 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars, if the cost of these various wars shall involve an increase in taxes?
    Oh please, we just froze 33 billion in Libyan assets, the war has cost 500 million, you do the math. I guarantee you that the Libyan opposition will gladly fork over that 33 billion to pay for it.

    #3 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars, if the cost of these various wars shall involve a re-instatement of the draft?
    What draft? Why do you bring up the draft for an action that has ZERO ground troops. Elite fighter pilots are not drafted…this is just silly.

    #4 – Should the US intervene militarily in civil wars while fighting two other wars, without the advice and consent of the Congress?
    Again, we are talking about Gadhafi. Does the US Congress consent to Gadhafi being driven from power…of course it does. The Republicans were screaming for a no fly zone for weeks, Obama says yes and then Republicans scream that he should have double checked with them?

    Do the vast majority of Americans support Gadhafi getting justice meted out to him? Of course they do, few Americans are fans of Gadhafi. And when Gadhafi goes down expect a nice bump up in the polls for Obama.

    Honest to God, if you have to be so clinical that you can not mention that the enemy is Gadhafi…pretending that they are 2 hypothetical forces of equal value…disingenuous does not even come close.

    I will make it real simple: Gadafi yes or Gadhafi no.

    • abk1985

      [blockquote]I will make it real simple: Gadafi yes or Gadhafi no.

      [/blockquote]

      How can you ask ME that question when the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES won’t answer it?

      OTHER FALLACIES:

      #1 – Please confirm WHICH Libyan faction is going to sign off on $33B USD in Libyan assets?

      #2 – Fighter pilots don’t take off from their vacation homes in Monaco. There must be tens of thousands of enlisteds — Navy, Air Force, and Marines — in close support of this “non-war.”

      #3 – So you want to revise the Constitution: “Congress shall have power to make war, unless it is QADDAFI, in which case, hey, the Secy of State can do whatever she wants”. Nice.

      Tell you what: Let’s vote on my points and let’s vote on your points, and see who wins. Obama and Hilary are done.

  • sdspringy

    Frump does not consider the option that the Muslim Brotherhood/Al Qeda takes over Libya and begins to receive all that money from the oil.

    Egypt will be controled by the Muslim Bthhod so says the NYTs. Libya will go radical Islam so what is the benifit for the US. Helping radical Islam?? Helping the Europeans secure their oil sources while they flee Afghan??

    The outcome of Libya is a Lose/Lose for the USA. Gadhafi or Muslim Brotherhood either one amounts to a shit sandwich. But by all means throw some of our service men in there to add some flavor.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “This is a complete straw man. No is supporting Qaddafi here. The question is why should the US be engaged in regime change. Many people opposed Apartheid for decades without calling for the US to invade South Africa.”

    If the whites began to kill blacks, promising to hunt them down in the rooms and kill them one by one you can be damn sure we would have..and imagine if the white President of South Africa had also ordered the bombing of a US airliner.

    we should have gotten rid of him after the bombing of Pan Am, that was an act of war in itself but we have the chance to finally do what we should have done decades ago. And it is self defense, a Gadhafi unrestrained with hundreds of billions of oil wealth would be capable of anything.
    I fly a lot, I have no desire to get blown up in the future by some Gadhafi thug who plants a suitcase bomb. He did it before, he sure as hell can do it again.

    Look, there was no way in hell Obama was going to get saddled with a refugee crisis in Egypt and an unconstrained Gadhafi outside of all restraints. It would have been an epic political disaster for him.

    Again, this is Gadhafi we are talking about. When he goes expect to see the surviving relatives of the Pan Am victims being interviewed on TV thanking God that Gadhafi is finally gone and no other family has to go through what they went through…and we are talking about fellow Americans…
    but yeah, pretend this is dictator X against populace Y.

    And no way in hell will the election hinge on this, it is in NATO’s hands now, the French and British are doing the bulk of the offensive military actions…do you really think Americans will give a rats ass about French involvement in Libya?

    • abk1985

      You are getting incoherent. Look. It’s very simple.

      By any metric you propose the US has already gone far beyond a simply “mission of mercy”.

      Our president is a coward who wants regime change but refuses to say it in public. Why? Because he doesn’t want the US to take the responsibility for what Libya MIGHT become (another terrorist state that engages in massacres.)

      Our president is furthermore a coward because he cannot tell the American people the truth:

      1 – We cannot continue engaging in military action without increasing our armed service establishment greatly, and that cannot be done without the draft.

      2 – We cannot continue engaging in military action without raising taxes.

      Combine those two points, along with his demonstrated duplicity in this case, add the high potential for failure and ultimate US responsibility for Libya, and the failing US economy, and you have the recipe for a failed presidency.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    How can you ask ME that question when the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES won’t answer it?

    He has answered it, he said Gadhafi has to go…what part of “Gadhafi has to go” do you not understand? There are many ways to affect this, we got rid of countless leaders in a ton of countries without boots on the ground…I don’t understand this one track mind. The clock is ticking for Gadhafi, no oil revenues, no resupply of weapons, a populace overwhelmingly fed up with him…

    #1 – Please confirm WHICH Libyan faction is going to sign off on $33B USD in Libyan assets?
    Um….the one that has gotten international recognition from France, Qatar, etc. you know, that one. That literally left me open mouthed…are you paying any attention whatsoever?

    #2 – Fighter pilots don’t take off from their vacation homes in Monaco. There must be tens of thousands of enlisteds — Navy, Air Force, and Marines — in close support of this “non-war.”
    Monaco?? Hell, a lot of them flew out of Missouri. You know, I hate to break it to you but the planes and service men are already there at the NATO bases in Italy, on the ships…did we have to have a draft to get them there? This is a NATO operation with assistance of other countries, we are talking about drawing on the military capabilities of countries with a combined population of what, 500 million? Against an army of 50,000 that now has at most a few propeller driven planes left?
    Again, you have no sense of proportion. This is Libya not China.

    #3 – So you want to revise the Constitution: “Congress shall have power to make war, unless it is QADDAFI, in which case, hey, the Secy of State can do whatever she wants”. Nice.
    This is not a freaking WAR. To have a war you have to have a country upon which to declare war on, we have not declared war on Libya because we are not at war with Libya. We did not declare war on Afghanistan either since we did not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of the country. You really have to learn about conditions of war. Do we have to declare war on Somali pirates if we see them trying to board tankers? Of course not.

    I know you don’t want to hear it but we are not technically at war with Libya…we simply are not.
    You honestly want us to declare war against one man? That is silly. He is a criminal outlaw who holds no official title and whom we do not recognize as the leader of Libya, therefore we literally can not declare war on Libya… we certainly can come to the aid of the provisional government in Benghazi. We can also protect civilians. We have soldiers in Japan aiding the earthquake victims, shall we declare war on the earthquake…will that make you feel better? (this last part is pure snark, so don’t get into a snit about it)

    • abk1985

      He has answered it, he said Gadhafi has to go

      He stipulated last night that we are not in this for regime change. In other words, your president is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

      [q]#1 – Please confirm WHICH Libyan faction is going to sign off on $33B USD in Libyan assets?
      Um….the one that has gotten international recognition from France, Qatar[/q]

      There are least a half dozen councils in Benghazi …. which one is going to rule? And according to who?

      This is a NATO operation with assistance

      The point is that this is an operation involving large numbers of American enlisted personnel, not just the handful of pilots in your mind.

      Now, tell us some more about the “provisional government” of Benghazi. You know, the one you seem to know so well, that you can’t remember their name. No fair peeking.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “Our president is a coward who wants regime change but refuses to say it in public. Why?”
    He has said it, again what part of “Gadhafi has to go” did you not understand? You are being obtuse. There are many methods to achieve this goal and it will be achieved.
    Obama has made the distinction between this particular mission which has UN sanction, and the broader mission. EVERYONE knows this, this is just getting silly.

    OK, this is my last posting, I fundamentally disagree with whatever your supposed point is and I have no desire to get into a pissing match where we trade childish insults…calling me incoherent without proving anything I wrote is incoherent is the mark of someone who knows he is getting his ass whipped and therefore has to degenerate into insult.

    Benghazi will not fall, there will not be a humanitarian crisis in Egypt, Gadhafi’s days are numbered…these are simple facts…you can spin them however you want and you can vote for Michelle Bachmann or Newt Gingrich or whoever the Republicans throw up and pretend they would not use the military ever…

    Honest to God, this is freaking Libya, a country with a population smaller than NYC metro area in an open desert…this is not going to be an election issue because it will have been long over and because no Republican can make a plausible claim they would have done any better.

  • Primrose

    abk1985

    Serious nations do use selected aspects of their military for selected causes. Or what you like to call piecemeal. We have engagements that are limited in scope and force. Many, of course, the public never hears about.

    Obama has said we do not have a mandate to do regime change (because we don’t) and more importantly, he assess it would take ground troops to ensure it and that is more than we are willing to do. He doesn’t want another Iraq. He said that. That does not mean regime change is not welcome, or will not be helped any way possible. That isn’t lying. It’s just not a slogan. And no doubt it also sends a few messages in less public conversations we don’t know about. Most likely our Arab allies. But in any event, it’s is perfectly honest to say we think it is in the world’s interests for Quaddafi to leave now, but we are not willing to commit ground troops/can not/ do not have the international support for it.

    As for all the other blather about terrorists taking over Libya once Quaddaffi is gone. Quaddaffi was a terrorist.