Capitol Idea: War in Libya: Of Principle and Politics

After a decade of U.S. war in the Middle East, it is easy to understand the trepidation, skepticism, even outright opposition, with which yet another military adventure in the region could be met.

Indeed, in the days since combat operations began last weekend, voices across the political spectrum have emerged to raise legitimate questions and even objections to the endeavor. These run from Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio on the left, to Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana on the right.

In the midst of such honest debate, however, too many of Barack Obama’s political foes have criticized the action simply to take shots at the president in an effort to score points. Most egregious of these has been Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker and potential 2012 presidential candidate. Only weeks ago, Gingrich criticized the president for failing to intervene in Libya, only to flip-flop against the operation and come out attacking Obama for it once it had commenced.Gingrich isn’t alone in the parade of disingenuousness. He’s quickly followed by another potential 2012 GOP rival, former Sen. Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator mocked Obama, saying the president was merely “following the lead” of the French, when the truth was something very different, as progressive commentator and TV host Rachel Maddow correctly pointed out on her program this week, “President Obama wants the narrative to be something different. He very clearly did not want there to be another American military action in the Arab world,” Maddow says.

Clearly, opposition to the U.S. action in Libya isn’t unanimous, certainly on the left. That’s why the head of the prominent progressive group Democracy for America sent an email to supporters on Wednesday titled, “Where do you stand on Libya?” Jim Dean, brother of former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, wrote:

Last weekend, President Obama took decisive action and “authorized armed forces of the United States to begin military action in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians,” yet, many Democrats in Congress are expressing reservations or even outright opposing the decision, We’d like to hear from you. What do you think?

He’s clearly acknowledging a lack of clear consensus on the issue, even among progressives.

Personally, I’m torn. I see obvious benefit in preventing Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from mowing down his own population merely for wanting to see him out of power, yet I freely acknowledge the host of issues, and potentially deep pitfalls that come with the endeavor.

Before being accused of hypocrisy myself, let me be clear about one thing: the operation in Libya does not equate to that which went on in Iraq. George W. Bush only retroactively tried to justify the war in Iraq by the brutality of Saddam Hussein. His case for war was built on a web of lies regarding weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be entirely fictitious. When he launched his invasion of Iraq, the United Nations was against it and wanted more time to investigate the WMDs.

The broad international community today is demanding no such delay in acting against Gaddafi. That said though, President Obama has much to answer for in authorizing strikes against Libya. Senior members of his administration ought to be questioned in detail by members of Congress, If Obama’s Libya policy turns out to be wrong, so be it.

The honest and principled discussion, debate, even opposition, ought to continue. But it shouldn’t be clouded by the abhorent kind of politics practiced by the likes of Gingrich and Santorum.


Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as War in Libya: Of Principle and Politics on Blogcritics.

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One Response to Capitol Idea: War in Libya: Of Principle and Politics

  1. David says:

    The operation in Libya is essential for the US because the country doesn’t have so many friends in the region and creating another enemy could have a number of detrimental consequences for its citizens. That’s why Obama needs to take his decisions after thorough consideration of the possible results of his actions.