The Other McCain

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Libya: Serious or Not?

Posted on | March 30, 2011 | 29 Comments

One of the reasons I’m having trouble taking the war in Libya seriously is that President Obama keeps treating it like another opportunity for political posturing. He gives his big nationally televised primetime speech on Monday and is off to wine and dine $30,000-a-plate donors on Tuesday while Vice President Joe Biden vacations in Aspen.

Wait, did I say “war” in Libya? I meant “kinetic military action.”

There I go again, cracking jokes. But if what is happening in Libya really matters, then why has the U.S. become involved on such a half-assed basis? If it was important, wouldn’t Congress have been consulted before we started shooting cruise missiles at Tripoli?

The Don’t-Call-It-a-War is being conducted under a United Nations “humanitarian” mandate that doesn’t include overthrowing Qaddafi. Only air power is involved, with no U.S. boots on the ground. It is being fought (or should I say “kinecticized”?) by a coalition led by the French while “the United States will play a supporting role” so that “the risk and cost of this operation — to our military and to American taxpayers — will be reduced significantly.”

Insert punchline here.

We have a war that’s not a war, in which we are merely “supporting” a mission supposedly limited to protecting civilians, yet Obama continues to boast about getting rid of Qaddafi.

CBS headline: Obama: Qaddafi regime’s “days are numbered”

MSNBC headline: Obama: ‘Gadhafi will ultimately step down’

If Bush was mocked by liberals for his “cowboy” swagger, at least he was willing to assume the political risks associated with being Gary Cooper in High Noon. Obama apparently expects to be taken seriously while playing Woody from Toy Story 2: “Ride like the wind, Bullseye!

These jokes just write themselves, you see, and the biggest challenge of Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure is trying to keep a straight face while discussing it. For that task, you need a perfect SAT score and a Harvard diploma, which is why I’m grateful today for Ross Douthat:

One of President Obama’s recurrent rhetorical tropes during the 2008 campaign was the “false choice” maneuver, in which he would distance himself from straw men of the left and right to better sell himself as a post-partisan figure. He made the same move last night, defending his administration’s Libya policy by distancing himself from the “some” who “question why America should intervene at all,” and the “others” who “have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Qaddafi and usher in a new government.” The proper course, the president argued, lay somewhere in between, with an intervention designed to save civilian lives, prevent a destabilizing refugee crisis, and “stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks,” without committing American power (and American troops, and American money …) to the task of changing Libya’s regime outright. …

Read the whole thing, because it really is quite impressive that Douthat was able to find something serious to say about the president’s absurdly unserious speech. That Obama the Commander-in-Chief is resorting to familiar tricks of Obama the Candidate — making replies to arguments attributed to the convenient straw men “Some” and “Others” — should not surprise us at all, given that the president doesn’t seem to be trying to accomplish any coherent foreign-policy goal so much as he is using Libya like a photo-op in his 2012 re-election campaign.

It takes a connoisseur’s taste for raw cynicism to appreciate what Obama is actually doing here: Attempting to add 20 seconds of footage to the film that’s going to be shown at the next Democratic National Convention before Obama’s acceptance speech. The “Libyans celebrate Qaddafi’s defeat” segment of that film, following on the “Egyptians celebrate Mubarak’s ouster” segment, will serve to convey the message that Obama the Peacemaker has accomplished almost bloodlessly, and at a discount, what Bush the Warmonger could not: Freedom in the Middle East.

While we’re all getting choked up on patriotic tears at the mere imagining of such scenes — the stirring music, the Oscar-quality production values, etc. — it is necessary to remind ourselves that we’ve got no idea what the situation in Libya will be next week or next month, let alone next year. Obama isn’t the only actor in this melodrama, and the villain doesn’t seem to be reading from the same script:

Rebel fighters fled under fire from a key town in eastern Libya on Tuesday as world leaders convening in London insisted that Moammar Gaddafi step down but offered no new suggestions for how to dislodge him from power.
The rebels’ chaotic retreat from the town of Bin Jawwad, which they had captured from troops loyal to Gaddafi just two days earlier, reversed the momentum they had seized over the weekend and suggested that the ad hoc and lightly armed opposition force may have reached the limits of its capacity.

Rather than “The Triumphant Liberation of Libya” — the forthcoming film for which Obama apparently anticipates rave reviews — the movie currently packing ’em in at the mall multiplex is “Libyan Rebels Retreat Without Allied Air Cover”:

We cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in the future, perhaps sooner rather than later, the Qaddafi regime will collapse and give Obama the happy ending he expects. And leave aside, for now, any concern you may have that the next regime in Libya will be an al-Qaeda/Hamas radical jihadi co-production that makes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Tehran theocracy look moderate by comparison. As long as no Tripoli-sponsored terrrorists blow up an American skyscraper between now and November 2012, the overthrow of Qaddafi will be counted as a “win” for Obama, without regard for how many Libyan adultresses or homosexuals are stoned to death in the post-Qaddafi era.

No, let’s take this situation at face value, in the same kind of “Campaign Scorecard” calculus that the Beltway media apply: What matters in foreign policy is not the fate of brown people in arid countries on the other side of the globe; rather the true measure of success is whether the outcome is good or bad for the president’s approval rating among independent voters in key swing states for 2012.

Screw the Libyans, what do “likely voters” say?

That’s the real game, you see, and nobody at the White House cares what a conservative blogger says about it any more than they actually give a damn about the Libyans. Still less does anyone inside the Obama administration give a damn about left-wing bloggers complaining that “kinectic military action” in North Africa wasn’t the Hope and Change they signed up for.

Whatever it was that Obama promised the Left, and however much the Left feels betrayed by the yawning gap between Obama’s promises and Obama’s actual policies, he doesn’t take the Left any more seriously than he takes anything else other than his golf game.

And really, why should Obama take the Left seriously? It’s not like is going to be signing people up to a “Pacifists for Palin” petition drive in 2012. George Soros won’t be giving money to a Howard Dean comeback campaign in the Democratic primaries. Bill Maher isn’t going to start bashing Obama in his stand-up monologues. Michael Moore can rant on Twitter all he wants, but the folks calling the shots in the Obama administration take Fatso From Flint about as seriously as I do.

There is no critic on the Left who can influence Obama’s Libya policy, and the president only engages Republican criticism by distorting it as the “Some” and “Others” straw-men arguments he brushes aside in his TV speeches.

What we have in Libya, then, is a serious situation being addressed by an unserious president whose only concern is his own political benefit.

Insert punchline here.

If you’re not laughing, I don’t blame you. It’s not really funny at all, but these jokes just write themselves.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!


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