By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
We are at war. Again. Against a third Muslim country. On top of Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s now Libya. And the question every American must ask is: “Is this a war I can support?”
For conservatives, it’s easy. They wanted military action against Libya. They got it. They demanded a no-fly zone. They got it. Yet they’ll still oppose it, simply because Barack Obama started it. And anything he’s for, they’re automatically against. Which is why nobody should take seriously anything said on the subject by John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, John Boehner, or any other Republican.
For liberals, it’s a lot more complicated. We opposed the war in Iraq because it was launched by the U.S. against a country that did not attack us first, conducted almost exclusively by U.S. forces, and paid for entirely by U.S. taxpayers. But this war is different. Unlike Iraq, we initiated military action in Libya at the request of other Arab countries. We are not alone. We are operating under the UN flag, not the U.S. flag. And there are no boots on the ground. In many ways, it’s the kind of war we said we wanted: the perfect war for the post-Iraq war age.
So what’s a good liberal supposed to do? First, let’s not kid ourselves: war is war, no matter how civilized you get into it. And the United States is doing the heavy lifting, no matter how many allies are involved. Those were U.S. missiles launched from U.S. ships. Those were U.S. bombs dropped from B-52’s flown nonstop from the American mainland. That was a U.S. fighter plane that crashed, enforcing the no-fly zone. There are already Libyan civilians killed by U.S. bombs. And, before it’s over, there will be U.S. troops killed by forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi. This is America’s war, and there are still unanswered questions about its legal authority, cost, timeline and mission.
Is it legal? In December 2007, candidate Barack Obama told the Boston Globe that a president “does not have 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.” Today, President Obama argues he does have that power, under the War Powers Act of 1973. He’s probably right, but, in addition to the Arab League and the UN Security Council, it’d look better if he’d also secured authorization from Congress.
What’ll it cost? Tomahawk missiles cost $1 million each. We lobbed 112 of them on Libya the first night alone, and many more since. The whole operation will probably exceed $1 billion. How ironic. We can’t even afford heating oil assistance to the poor, but somehow we can always find money for another war.
How long will it last? President Obama insists the United States will complete our part of the mission in days, not weeks. After which, we’ll turn over operation of the no-fly zone to NATO. Which may be easier said than done, since Germany has dropped out of the alliance and nobody else seems eager to take the baton. Gadhafi, meanwhile, is determined to drag this thing out for months or years — which is the last thing Americans want. And that raises the most important question of all…
What’s the goal? To get rid of Gadhafi? Or to protect the people of Libya? That depends on whom you ask. On March 3, President Obama said what he has repeated many times since: “Muammar Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.” But two days after the bombardment of Libya began, General Carter Ham told reporters: “I could see accomplishing the military mission which has been — which has been assigned to me, and the current leader would — would remain the current leader.”
Attempting to smooth over the apparent contradiction, the White House now explains there are two different, but compatible, goals: the short-term military goal of protecting the people from Gadhafi’s butchery and the long-term political and diplomatic goal of convincing Gadhafi to step down — assuming the rebels are ready to step up. But, surely, any scenario that allows Gadhafi to stay in power for any length of time would render the entire military operation meaningless.
So many questions, so few answers. So what’s a good liberal supposed to do? Answer: Hold your nose and support it, for now. And hope we get out fast.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.