Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Insight into the President's thinking on Libya

I've been capitvated by the back-and-forth about President Obama's decisions with respect to Libya.  Unlike most of my friends, I'm not sure that our military involvement is the right - or the wrong- thing to do.  For now, I"m still in listening mode.

As such, I found "First Thoughts: Searching for Clarity" from NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, Ali Weinberg, and Carrie Dann in MSNBC's First Read blog to be good input:
The president on the final leg of his Latin America swing in El Salvador yesterday said he has “absolutely no doubt" that command of the Libyan operation will be handed over to an international coalition. And said nothing’s changed his mind on that being in “days not weeks.” He added that "clarity" would come in days. (By the way, it’s now been five days since “days not weeks” first appeared in print.) President Obama said there are already fewer U.S. planes involved in the Libya operation and added, "We've already saved lives" in Benghazi. "Unless [Khaddafy] changes his approach" and there are significant reforms in Libyan government, he's a threat to his people, Obama said. What would the U.S.’s role be once control is handed over? "It is not going to be our planes" enforcing the no-fly zone, Obama said; it's not going to be "our ships" enforcing the arms embargo. In what may be a recognition of the political difficulty back home, the president heads back to Washington earlier than scheduled. He’ll skip touring Mayan ruins -- and a political beehive awaits. (NBC’s Pete Williams examined whether President Obama violated the Constitution with his action on Libya.)

America's national interest in Libya: In response to a question from NBC's Savannah Guthrie, the president offered a rather expansive rationale for his actions in Libya. The first part of his answer was familiar: "[T]he American people and the United States have an interest first of all in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people and saying he will show no mercy and go (inaudible) hunting people down and we have the capacity under international sanction to do something about that, I think it's in America's international-- America's national interest to do something about it. That doesn't mean that we can solve every problem in the world. It does mean that when you have not only the United Nations but also the Arab League and also other countries in the Gulf who are saying we need to intercede to make sure that a disaster doesn't happen on our watch -- as has happened in the past when the international community stood idly by -- it is in America's national interest to participate in that."

It's the SECOND part of his answer that was new: "Now we've already seen what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, peaceful transitions. We have a huge national interest in making sure that those are successful, because if Egypt can make a transition from a[n] autocratic regime to a democracy, if Tunisia can make those same changes, they become models for a peaceful transition that at some point may be adopted by other countries in the region. If on the other hand, they spill into chaos, in part, because they've got a million … Libyans who are pouring into these countries, and their borders become less secure, and there's a breakdown of order -- that could have spillover effects in the entire region. So not only do we have a humanitarian interest, but we also have a very practical interest in making sure that the changes that are sweeping through that region are occurring in a peaceful, non-violent fashion, and when we can have some impact on that, with a relatively modest contribution as part of a broader international effort, then I absolutely believe that the costs are outweighed by the benefits, and that is what drove my decision, and that's why I think that we need to make sure that we see this through effectively."

This second rationale actually resonates with me.  A variation of it was a topic of discussion at a dinner with friends Sunday night.  It was suggested that our involvement is important because it could help ensure that the current momentum toward democracy in the Middle East not be halted by the massacre of people standing up to their repressive leaders.  Should that happen, we could be in for a long period of time before such efforts are made again.

I'm curious to know what my readers think about the military action in Libya.  I hope some of you will find a few minutes to post a response.

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