Monday, June 20, 2011

Discredited Neocons Ally with Obama on Libya War

As Barack Obama was wowing so many of us with his silver-tongued rhetoric during the 2008 election campaign, I daresay that not even the most imaginative - or crazed - Hollywood or TV script-writer could have come up with a scenario as surreal as what's now before our eyes.

The Barack Obama who campaigned against the hubris of a Bush administration that so wantonly arrogated war-fighting prerogatives to the executive branch is now - against the advice of some of his best experts - doing much the same with his ill-starred expedition to "save" Libya.   When accused by both his own liberal fellow Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress of violating the War Powers Resolution, Obama shamelessly responded that the US - having supposedly handed off the Libya campaign to the US's NATO partners - was no longer engaged in "hostilities" in Libya.  That drew immediate condemnation from various quarters - among them, former CIA official Paul Pillar and Harvard's Stephen Walt, who asked Obama to stop insulting all of us with such a patently obvious example of legalistic sophistry.

The White House, nonetheless, stands by its version.

But word comes this evening (via the NY Times) that suggests that Obama was trying to slip one past us:
Since the United States handed control of the air war in Libya to NATO in early April, American warplanes have struck at Libyan air defenses about 60 times, and remotely operated drones have fired missiles at Libyan forces about 30 times, according to military officials.
The most recent strike from a piloted United States aircraft was on Saturday, and the most recent strike from an American drone was on Wednesday, the officials said.
While the Obama administration has regularly acknowledged that American forces have continued to take part in some of the strike sorties, few details about their scope and frequency have been made public.
The unclassified portion of material about Libya that the White House sent to Congress last week, for example, said “American strikes are limited to the suppression of enemy air defense and occasional strikes by unmanned Predator” drones, but included no numbers for such strikes.
The disclosure of such details could add texture to an unfolding debate about the merits of the Obama administration’s legal argument that it does not need Congressional authorization to continue the mission because United States forces are not engaged in “hostilities” within the meaning of the War Powers Resolution.
"Add texture"?  Gee, ya think?
And how about this for some added "texture"?
On Monday, a group that includes prominent neoconservative figures — including Liz Cheney, Robert Kagan, William Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz — sent Republicans an open letter opposing efforts to cut off funds for the mission.

That's right.  The same Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Paul Wolfowitz who banged the war drums so ferociously during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq - the same Wolfowitz who insisted that the well-informed testimony of General  Eric Shinseki seriously over-estimated the number of US troops that would be needed to stabilize Iraq . . . . These neocon clowns who ought by now to have been thoroughly discredited and drummed out of any adult conversation on the application of US military force overseas. . . .  These are the people with whom Barack Obama now finds himself in common cause.

Bruce Crumley (at Time's Global Spin) recently pointed out that Obama's tactics have the potential to do grievous harm for years to come, not only to Obama's political fortunes but to American democracy:
the power-grab by an Obama White House seeking to avoid Congressional push-back (or even smack-down) on Libya marks an embrace of Bush administration tactics by a Democratic leader that seriously increases the likelihood such moves will become a sinister habit among future presidents of both parties. Bush may have set the precedent; Obama's move risks establishing it as an integral part of the presidential playbook. It also may have more immediate consequences. . . .  while legal history suggests the White House will be able to turn back court challenges by members of Congress complaining the War Powers Resolution is being violated, anger the move has sparked among Republicans and Democrats alike may cost Obama politically. The Libyan campaign is unpopular among public opinion, which is also seriously hacked off at seeing another war—or whatever you want to call it—sucking money from shrinking budgets as another period of economic sluggishness looks ready to set in. Seeking to ignore that displeasure by secluding the decision of prolonging the Libyan operation under a dome of presidential prerogative only seems certain to increase bubbling resentment.

Meanwhile, the US treasury hemorrhages money to cover the cost:

The Obama administration is spending almost $9.5 million every single day to blow things up in Libya because the president has determined that is in the country's national interest, this country's national interest, not Libya's. You may not have noticed the $392,542 flowing out of the national treasury every hour, day and night, since those first $1.5 million Tomahawks flashed from the launch tubes back on March 19.

At Asia Times, Victor Kotsev tells it like it is:
The stalemate can perhaps be broken by one of two developments [6]: if Gaddafi and a large part of his inner circle are physically eliminated, or if NATO sends ground forces into Libya. A number of NATO bombing raids in the last months looked very much like attempts on his life; one of them allegedly killed Gaddafi's obscure son Saif al-Arab and several of the colonel's grandchildren. . . . Even though it is hard to say how many people besides Gaddafi NATO would have to kill to bring down his regime, some NATO officials have already started to prevaricate (rather than issue denials) on whether Gaddafi is an official target of the campaign. . . . As for a ground invasion, this is an even riskier option, and a sign that NATO considers everything else to have failed. There are some indications, however, that the alliance is laying the groundwork for a potential land war in Libya, including the use of helicopters and the ratcheting up of war crimes allegations. Save for these two options, there seems to be little that can remove Gaddafi's regime from power. We should consider the colonel's tactical retreats in light of these threats. Should they fail to materialize, a stalemate in Libya seems to be practically assured down the road. Meanwhile, more chaos and confusion is in store.

Whatever his original honorable intentions in intervening in Libya, Obama is well on the way to sticking himself, his political prospects, and so much more,  to a new regime-change tar baby, just as George W. Bush did with Iraq - a military and fiscal debacles that insured Bush a place of infamy in the annals of history.  Obama needs to find a way to unstick himself, and the US, from Libya, and from the shameful new company he now keeps.

UPDATE: Tony Karon at Global Spin on what may lie ahead in Libya, especially in the wake of yesterday's botched NATO raid that killed civilians in Tripoli:
The Western powers and their regional allies can't allow themselves to lose in Libya, but they could lower the bar of what determines success: Short of a lucky "decapitation" strike that kills Gaddafi -- and perhaps even then -- the current level of NATO military commitments and the limited capabilities of the rebels point increasingly towards a stalemate in which neither the regime nor the rebels are able to deliver a knockout blow.
No surprise, then, that negotiations appear to be underway, with U.N. Secretary General reporting that he is encouraged by progress made by his envoy, former Jordanian foreign minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib, in brokering talks between the rebels and the regime aimed at achieving a political solution. Right now, the regime side is insisting that Gaddafi remain in power in some form, or at least remain in the country while one of his sons takes over the reins pending new elections. That's a formula that's unacceptable to the rebels -- who insist that no such talks are even underway. And NATO countries are unlikely to accept Gaddafi remaining in power. But Sunday's meeting in Cairo between the U.N., the Arab League and the European Union affirmed the urgency of finding a political solution in Libya.
Dependent financially and militarily on the backing of foreign countries, the rebels have limited muscle to enforce their will if it differs from that of their Western backers. Less may depend on what Benghazi is willing to accept than on what London, Paris and Brussels are willing to accept by way of an outcome. And Western powers have already made clear to the rebels that they will be expected, as a means of ending the conflict, to share power with a significant segment of those currently in the regime's camp.
So even before Sunday's "collateral damage" incident, it was becoming increasingly clear that what remains of the war "hostilities" right -- fierce as they could become in the weeks ahead -- now may be largely a matter of determining the shape of that compromise agreement under which Gaddafi is eased out.

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