The Real Libya Policy Obama Won’t Admit

March 30th, 2011 at 5:20 pm David Frum | 186 Comments |

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And people say George W. Bush lied about Iraq!

President Obama’s campaign in Libya may be the most deceptively sold U.S. military policy since Franklin Roosevelt’s “all aid short of war” policy in 1941.

In his speech to the nation Tuesday night, the president described a military action in Libya

  • where the main U.S. military commitment had already ended,
  • where NATO was relieving the U.S. of operational responsibility,
  • where the U.S. mission was limited to protecting civilian populations,
  • where the U.S. goal is strictly humanitarian,
  • and where the U.S. took no view about Libya’s future government beyond a vague preference that Muammar Qaddafi move on.

As described, this is a preposterous policy. Fortunately, the president is giving every sign of not believing a word of it.

In fact, the U.S. commitment continues and will likely enlarge. And despite the president’s statement that no U.S. “ground forces” will enter Libya, does anybody doubt that – as in Afghanistan in 2001 – U.S. personnel are present “on the ground”?

In fact, any large-scale NATO operation is inescapably U.S.-led. The NATO commander in charge of the Libyan operation is a Canadian three-star general. With all due respect to the heroic military traditions of my native land, it is not very likely that a Canadian three-star is running a war involving large U.S., French, and British military assets.

In fact, the U.S. mission is aimed at the overthrow of Qaddafi. The U.S. is engaged in sophisticated propaganda operations urging Qaddafi’s troops to turn on him. And it’s reported that the U.S. is negotiating with Qaddafi about a secure exit from Libya.

In fact, the U.S. mission is as deeply concerned with European energy security as with the humanitarian crisis. Critics correctly point out that the US has managed to ignore many other humanitarian crises – and is in fact ignoring one right now in the Ivory Coast. This particular crisis is occurring in a country from which NATO ally Italy buys more than one-fifth of all its net oil imports and in which Britain has a very large investment. We are not going to war for oil. But we very rarely go to war without oil.

In fact, the Obama administration is obviously very concerned about bringing Islamic radicals to power in Libya. Unlike the Sarkozy government, the Obama administration has not recognized the rebels as the legitimate government of the country. It is instead proposing a conference at which various factions will be present – and at which Western governments will have more scope to pick and choose, as happened in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban. By concentrating on the air war, and providing only limited help to the rebels on the ground, the Obama administration keeps the rebels weak and maximizes NATO’s relative sway over Libya’s future.

Henry Kissinger used to contrast the Bush 43 and Clinton administrations: “Under Clinton, the explanations were much better than the policies; under Bush, the policies were always much better than the explanations.”

The Libyan war takes the Bush frailty to extremes: the explanations are laughable on their face – but the policy seems astute and promising.

Oscar Wilde has one of his characters remark to another: “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.” In that sense, the contrast between this president’s actions in Libya and his justifications is hypocrisy at it’s most shameless – and most welcome.

Originally published in The Week.


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186 Comments so far ↓

  • pnumi2

    kt

    thanks for the response. I thought I was”sent to Coventry” by the power house posters here.

    All that I am saying is don’t “give panic a chance.” A desirable solution to our problem is made infinitely worse if the world population starts to worry about the result of diminishing oil reserves and begins to panic and then the panic starts to feed on itself.

    This is why after eight years of putting down the Bush Administration’s lame explanation of WMD, I no longer do. Why? Because the large Iraqi oil reserves MUST be in stable, cooperating hands. This explains toy me why Obama has become so warlike in his his response to the rebellion in Lybia.

    In 5 years we can not have let some one like Saddam or Qadiffi decide ho much oil to bring to the surface. That decision has to be left to the powers in the van of snatching the world’s GDP from the jaws of peak oil.

    It’s as simple as that.

    I’ll try to shut up on the subject. If the posters here at FF can’t handle the topic, imagine how the less informed are able to.

  • thebardofmurdock

    Obama’s Libyan Strategery

    For those who study history
    And military strategy,
    A new approach to waging war
    In ways that were untried before,
    Is rarely seen or heard:
    The old ways are preferred.

    But in these times of global strife,
    With sounds of drum and notes of fife,
    A new man joins the hall of fame
    Of leaders who receive acclaim,
    For strategy in war,
    Too brilliant to ignore.

    With Hannibal, Napoleon,
    And Kahn, the great Mongolian,
    With Brennus and with Pericles
    With Sun Tzu and Eurybiades,
    Our President does share
    A real strategic flair.

    He joins in war, almost too late,
    Makes public his withdrawal date,
    Commences action from the air,
    Then makes his enemies aware
    He’ll not attack on land,
    Across the desert sand.

    Within just days, perhaps a week,
    His reputation and mystique
    For managing the world’s affairs
    Achieves its peak when he declares
    He’ll bomb the rebels too,
    For things that they might do.

    Perhaps another Nobel Prize
    Our friends from Stockholm could reprise,
    For excellence in strategy
    While waging war on Tripoli.
    It’s merited, at worst,
    As much as was the first.

  • pnumi2

    The only Nobel Prize I see
    Is one for warlike poetry.
    The bard from Murdock, it can be said,
    Has hit the nail upon the head.
    $2.50 and this poem, I feel,
    Should buy the bard a Happy Meal.

    • pnumi2

      [b]“A new approach to waging war
      In ways that were untried before,
      Is rarely seen or heard:
      The old ways are preferred.”[/b]
      from ‘Obama’s Libyan Strategy’by thebardofmurdock

      The olden ways were much prefered
      you could kill a man just like a bird.
      You’d load it up without a fuss.
      And never aim your blunderbuss.

      Man today regrets all the results
      When he destroyed his catpults.
      Life for new Will Tells, I trow,
      Sucks without a strong crossbow.

      Warfare now is very hard
      Since they banned the petard.
      I guess we’ll just have to bitch and moan
      And do our slaughtering with a drone

  • nhthinker

    Coal is half our electricity.
    Almost half our transportation could move to electricity.
    The rest could easily move to CNG and ethanol.
    Home heating can easily move off oil as well.

    All airplanes and jets are a real problem. A caravan of military vehicles is another one.

    Obama’s shutting down of America’s offshore oil fields just dumped more jobs and money overseas and put our national security in a more precarious condition.

  • pnumi2

    nh

    So we convert the half of our electricty that’s non water, non wind, non solar, non natural gas to coal. Home heating goes to coal. Diesel engines go back to coal fired steam engine locomotives.

    Can you really get the rest of transportation onto CNG and ethanol?

    What percentage of world oil production is used as in ingredient or constituent part in the production of, plastics, chemicals, etc.?

    Did Obama ‘shut down” America’s offshore oil fields or just put a moratorium on new, deep water exploration? Did jobs get dumped over seas or are they just on hold here?

    Is our national security better off exploring here and waiting 3 or 4 years for productive wells or making sure Libyan oil flows exactly where we want it to in a few months?

  • Primrose

    nhthinker.

    Uh. So unless a meteor hit Iraq and left a crater there, Iraq can not be destroyed? Please.

    As for my proof. The concept of finding it for you wearies me because it how could I possibly choose to limit it enough. Haven’t you been paying attention these eight years? Haven’t you occasionally watched a documentary on Iraq, or perhaps a movie, read a book? I agree it’s not a great way to spend one’s time but occasionally?

    Iraq’s infrastructure is shot. It wasn’t before. It wasn’t quite Dubai (but then what is?) but it wasn’t Yemen either. Entire areas have been essentially been ethnically cleansed. There remains chaos. Thousands upon thousands were killed. It is now a much more fundamentally Islamist country. There is slightly less chaos now but no guarantee it will stay that way once America really leaves.

    I would not take the bet that most Iraqi’s are so grateful not to have Saddam that they don’t mind the current state of their country. They did not ask us to come. They did not seem very happy to see us. They are less so now.

    As to other paths, lord I started to write down tons. I’ve decided to spare everyone.
    But basically, your argument that the choice was this mess in Iraq or Saddam’s tyranny is false.

    We didn’t need an army to take out Saddam, though perhaps several Black Ops missions. We didn’t need to be unprepared for sectarian violence. We didn’t need Abu Graib. We didn’t need a whole ton of things that happened. Iraq was not necessary.

    We also did not need to do it after we had started a war with Afghanistan. We needed to win that war. Gain the prestige and power that comes from winning in Afghanistan (the graveyard of empires) and then gone to Hussein, and said, “I’m sorry, Saddam, but I think it’s time for you to buy your house on the Adriatic. You have outlived your usefulness.”

    We needed to be subtle, and do our homework, and think about the consequences. Then perhaps, the Iraqi’s would actually have been grateful.

    • gmat

      some good points, especially about subtlety. I think $10B in cash to the ISI in Fall 2001, and we would have had the corpses of bin Laden and whoever happened to be hanging around him, UPS’ed to Washington.

      Nation building has to be the stupidest counter-terror strategy, ever.

  • nhthinker

    pnumi2 // Apr 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    “So we convert the half of our electricity that’s non water, non wind, non solar, non natural gas to coal. Home heating goes to coal. Diesel engines go back to coal fired steam engine locomotives.”

    Oil is not used to power the electric grid- Coal only powers half the electric grid.
    All means of generating electricity-especially the low cost ones, could be used to shift some of transportation to the electric grid when it makes economic sense.
    Trains can move to electric engines.

    “Can you really get the rest of transportation onto CNG and ethanol?”
    Pickens thinks he can. His plan makes a lot of sense but the CO2 alarmists don’t want large use of CNG- they would rather see bicycles used for transportation and have more people become vegans and give up their pets and air travel.

    “What percentage of world oil production is used as in ingredient or constituent part in the production of, plastics, chemicals, etc.?”

    Almost 90 percent of world oil production goes to the production of fuel, with the remainder used to make medicines, plastics and hundreds of other products. Materials chemists can help to reduce global dependency on fossil fuels and feedstocks by developing methods to efficiently obtain petroleum from low-quality sources and by developing processes to efficiently and sustainably utilize fossil-fuel alternatives.

    “Did Obama ’shut down” America’s offshore oil fields or just put a moratorium on new, deep water exploration? Did jobs get dumped over seas or are they just on hold here?”

    Jobs for wells last decades. Losing a year of permits shifts the production to other countries. It is extremely expensive to move deep water building platforms- they have all moved out of the Gulf to other countries and it’s not clear what would entice them back at this point. Once they move to a new area, its more economical to finish that field than crisscrossing the oceans when a new field opens up-ESPECIALLY if they think the government might close it down as soon as they get there.
    Obama screwed the pooch on domestic oil- he’d rather have windmills and bicycles and make a wild assumption that such a strategy does not lose us jobs, competitiveness and security.

    “Is our national security better off exploring here and waiting 3 or 4 years for productive wells or making sure Libyan oil flows exactly where we want it to in a few months?”

    Why are you asking an either or question: as if our decision for one impacts our ability to do the other. Drilling domestically clearly would give us more leverage to better handle future Libyas. Not drilling domestically leads us to act in a more imperial fashion.

  • nhthinker

    Primrose,
    Iraq could not have been easy. Take out Saddam with blackops and then what? Get popcorn and watch the civil war? You don’t believe in Colin Powell’s pottery barn rule? You don’t care if Iran took over Iraq and its oil and then moved on to SA??
    That would be a nightmare.

    Your view sounds as naive as the UN limited airstrikes in Libya: no end game- Rebels beaten and now looking for ceasefire- the US no longer willing to fly attack missions.
    No AC130s, no warthogs. BlackOps is probably the only option left and the Brits and the French are welcome to try it to get control of the oil they buy.

  • pnumi2

    I must have been asleep when the last oil fired power plant converted back to coal. I don’t doubt it at all. As I remember it is easy.

    A friend of mine here sells street legal golf carts; I’ll probably get one myself. I’m not fond of driving the freeways although I must say traffic has fallen off big time.

    The 10% of production used for plastics etc. probably won’t budge much. The higher price of oil will be seen in the products derived from it. Perhaps even act as a governor for the growth of the world’s Gross Product.

    I’m not going to criticize Obama for his handling of the Gulf. There were a dozen different groups that wanted his decisions to meet with their approval. The environmentalists wanted one thing, the ‘drill baby drill’ crowned wanted another. Meantime the shoreline and the waters were a mess. A two year delay in exploring for wells isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans when 72,000,000 barrels of oil come up every day. In so far as jobs going over seas did you think over seas wouldn’t drill without American workers? Not one more well was drilled abroad because of Obama’s decision. How many platforms fled the gulf aftter the spill? After Obama’s decision?

    I have no facts or figures so I rely on yours. I do remember the platform that exploded was going to leave before the accident..

    Of course we should do both things at once. But as a citizen and consumer of seafood, I have no interest in seeing rich and abundant areas of fishing destroyed out-of-hand. At least pretend to be looking elsewhere before you ruin more productive areas.

  • nhthinker

    Yes it is more important to keep you in American crayfish and American soldiers putting their lives at risk so you can pretend that oil drilling in foreign countries is less dangerous to the planet than drilling in or near the US.

    Go ask any politician in Louisiana whether Obama’s decisions were the right ones- even the Democrats. Obama made Dems in NY and SF feel good- not the ones that rely on both the fish and the oil in the Gulf.

    http://www.speaker.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=229691

    “The Obama Administration’s moratorium is destroying American jobs. Samuel Giberga with Hornbeck Offshore Services testified that “at least 12 rigs have left” the Gulf of Mexico, “more are expected to follow, and one drilling company has been forced into bankruptcy.” Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle agreed and said “more may leave if permitting continues at a pace too slow to support keeping them in the Gulf.” Elizabeth Ames Jones, Chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, said “due to the moratorium the Gulf Coast States would lose over 8,100 jobs,” and Giberga noted that “more layoffs are being made each week.””

    “The Obama Administration’s policies are driving down energy production… Jones says a “one-year delay could result in a 500,000 barrel per day cut in world supply between 2013 and 2017.” Scott Angelle says “production has dropped off by about 210,000 barrels a day – 1.49 million barrels as of last month.” Giberga argued that “as a result of Administration policies, production in the Gulf has fallen by over 300,000 barrels per day.””

  • pnumi2

    At my age I won’t be demanding American crayfish much longer, but with America leading the first world nations to keep going whatever you want to call what we have now, more and more American soldiers will be at risk fighting for oil and our ever diminishing life style.

    Taking over the production in countries unfriendly to our coalition isn’t necessarily less dangerous. But it is definitely more immediate than setting up the drilling equipment and hiting a certain percentage of dry wells. But at this stage of peak oil, every well we don’t drill tomorrow is oil in our rainy day piggy bank, which may not help us next month, but certainly will help the Americans who follow us into overtime..

    I have no desire to learn what a Louisiana politician thinks about anything. Obama’s obligation is to the millions who voted for him; not the millions who didn’t.

    I am in the process of revising my thinking about peak oil, oil production, and NATO’s response to uncooperative leaders of oil producing nations. With respect, your quotes from Giberga from Hornbeck Offshore Services are exactly what I’d expect from some one in the drilling industry: “We’re getting killed and America’s losing millions of barrels a day.” Well, that unpumped oil is staying in our reserve to be pumped up later.

    And the idea that it is hurting our balance of payments doesn’t fly anymore. When the bubble burst at the end of Bush’s term: the National Debt, the Budget Deficit, And the Balance of Payments burst with it.

    I’m going to make a prediction. The National Debt will never be paid off. We will have an annual Budget Deficit forever. We will always import more than we export. However, it won’t make any difference. We are the second Rome.

  • nhthinker

    “Obama’s obligation is to the millions who voted for him; not the millions who didn’t.”

    I thought that Obama was supposed to be the President of all Americans, not just the ones that voted for him.
    Your representation of the presidency as a means to divide Americans is simultaneously both refreshingly honest and jaded.

    Sounds like you are resigned to the idea that the US goes the way of Greece and as long as you get your fish, you are willing to listen to Nero fiddle while the empire burns.

  • pnumi2

    “Sounds like you are resigned to the idea that the US goes the way of Greece and as long as you get your fish, you are willing to listen to Nero fiddle while the empire burns.”

    In the first place, I barely eat any fish and when I do it is usually Senator’s Gorton’s fish sticks.

    In the second place, I got my degree in history in 1961 and what I wasn’t taught, but what I learned was that nothing lasts forever. That can be very harsh when applied to your homeland, but I also learned never to deceive myself about anything.

    The Rome that burned when Nero fiddled was undoubtedly rebuilt. The Rome that fell as Gibbons described it, had it’s place in the sun at the beginning of civilization. If everything you described earlier about our ability to replace oil doesn’t occur exactly as you said, America will have had its place in the sun at civilization’s end.

    From “the shot heard round the world” and “the midnight ride of Paul Revere” to the Civil War and both World Wars to the resignation of Nixon and the impeachment of Clinton and the bursting of Bush’s bubble, America has had a spectacular run. Unless you can show me where it says that some things get to last forever, I have to think the U.S. was done in by a shortage of oil.

    I don’t doubt that a replacement for oil exists. I just haven’t seen it yet.

    If you have a gripe with someone, it’s not me. It’s probably with Clio, the Greek Goddess of History.

    • ktward

      pnumi.

      Damn but I like you– then again, maybe it’s impossible for me not to like a sharply prolific dude who graduated college the year I was born. I don’t always agree with your take, but your perspective is both uniquely valuable and genuinely appreciated. Along with that rapier wit.

      Keep on keepin’ on.

  • pnumi2

    kt

    Thank you for your kind words. It’s always nice to be appreciated. In all candor, I have to admit that I am extremely likable. I was 50 years ago and still am today. It has to do with being a little unusual, a little crazy and a little Je ne sais quoi. Here’s what my Social Studies instructor at the Lab School wrote about me 55 years ago:

    “Dave is, on balance in the B- range. He must learn, however discretion in his remarks in the classroom — his ill-judgement (there’s that bad judgement again) interferes with the group’s activity.”

    I’m sure you can imagine what it was like to be a teenager in Chicago in the 50′s. Being in your teens you were at your peak. America was at her post war peak. And, except for the White Sox and Cubs, Chicago under Daley was at its peak.

    Look at the teens today, staring into the tiny little screens on cell phones, wondering whether the text is okay or full of thumbos.

    What about you? Didn’t you say you lived in Chicago?

    I missed your posts the last couple of weeks. Glad you are back

    • ktward

      Look at the teens today, staring into the tiny little screens on cell phones, wondering whether the text is okay or full of thumbos.

      Things are different today than back in your day, sure. Shouldn’t they be? Back when you were a teen, would you have wanted to drive a car or a horse & buggy? We can, and do, adapt to tech advancement.

      I’ve spent a lot of time around todays teenagers. (Although my youngest just turned 20 a few weeks ago, so officially I’m no longer a parent to teens.) Perhaps there will be another opportunity to go into more depth (I’m looking at the clock- oy vey), but I can tell you that the richness and quality of teens lives isn’t at risk because of cell phones or facebook or xbox. (In fact, those things mostly just present a challenge — aka headache — for the parents.)

      My kids had all that junk, still do- just newer versions. They also played sports, took dance lessons, joined school clubs, hung out with friends, went to Cubs games, etc. … all the same stuff teens have been doing for generations. Today, my kids are healthy and thriving: my son is in grad school, music performance; my daughter is finishing up her soph undergrad year, and I think (fingers crossed) she’s finally settled on her major. Psych.

      As I look back at their childhood and teen years, I can tell you unequivocally that any experiential inadequacies they endured had zero to do with the gadgets they possessed.

      Oh, I do live in Chicago. For over 35 years. But I’m two weeks out from moving to Puerto Rico (my Ps live in San Juan area, need help) so I’ll be taking another break from the blogosphere shortly. Especially when panic sets in as I discover, as I’m bound to, a forgotten corner full of unpacked stuff.

  • nhthinker

    pnumi2,
    I have no gripe with you. I was trying to make a snarky joke with the fish stuff.
    I choose to remain optimistic even in the face of your probably accurate prediction is what is likely to come . I have children. I hope someday to have grandchildren. They need a decent country to live in and I don’t see Greece as a good model to follow. I want a country that is more vibrant and confident like the country you harken back to- not a country where more Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers.[WSJ]
    Our grandchildren can not expect the American dream if we leave them with the taker mentality. I’m not ready to give up.

  • pnumi2

    nh
    I know you have no gripe with me. I occasionally use words that just pop into my mind, sound right for the moment, but are often misinterpreted. I hope you understand.

    I had to think long and hard about posting my pessimistic views about the future. And having done so for a while, I plan on shutting up about it. I am single myself and have no children. But I am very close to 4 couples who have between them 9 children, the oldest 11 and the youngest 2. Naturally, I want to see them all live happy, comfortable lives. I do not talk this talk with the parents. I found it easy to say what I said here because of the anonymity of blogging.

    Obviously, I have a vivid imagination about things both political and historical and you’ll be happy to know I am wrong no less than I am right.

    As I have also said there is a mindset which occurs in the generations of empires and world powers which works against what is best for their continuation. A laziness, certain expectations, deservingness, etc. It is inborn and psychological. And must be overcome.

    The problem we face is the depletion of a natural resource and the solution to that problem is for all the nations to work together. If it can be done, that is the only way to do it.

    “The readiness is all.”

  • nhthinker

    pnumi2,

    I can be very rationally pessimistic as well, but the country needs optimism as well as a maker/giver philosophy. I think most religions instilled that in the 1950s. As Americans thrived, most of them seem no longer to be driven by the morality to contribute more than they take and create the bonds with other people so that they also have the maker/giver philosophy. It’s both Republicans and Democrats that have this problem.

    Morality is important and I do not see government as a sustainable means of instilling morality without becoming a theocracy of sorts. The Chinese are currently a nation of makers not takers and use government to instill their view of morality. But Americans clearly view the morality Americans had in the 1950s as a much better morality than exists in China today.

    How can we get a greater sense of morality back and less likely to act on our taker tendencies? No one seems to have the answers.

    I’m not very concerned about running out of natural resources, humans are very innovative about reacting to shortages and finding alternatives. I am much more worried about motivation and attitudes of humans than I am about natural resources.

    Many people today react very negatively to the Aesop Fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper but the morality of that fable was rampant in the US in the 1950s.

    Let me end with something optimistic. I view the capability of the best humans with maker/giver philosophy and technological capability will invent a clean form of energy production that will be more cost effective than pulling oil out of the ground and processing it. In might take 20 years, it might take 50 years, but it will happen.

  • pnumi2

    As Americans thrived, most of them seem no longer to be driven by the morality to contribute more than they take and create the bonds with other people so that they also have the maker/giver philosophy.

    As I said above: “There is a mindset which occurs in the generations of empires and world powers which works against what is best for their continuation. A laziness, certain expectations, deservingness, etc. It is inborn and psychological. And must be overcome.”

    How can we get a greater sense of morality back and less likely to act on our taker tendencies? No one seems to have the answers.

    Maybe we get this greater sense of morality back on an individual and not a group basis. Maybe that’s the point. Don’t worry about the other guy; just get your own ducks in a row. But that sounds like theology and that’s verboten.