In the Democratic primary campaign of 2008, candidate Barack Obama scored points because he, unlike many Democrats, had opposed the Iraq War from the start. Though a state senator at the time of the 2002 congressional vote authorizing military action, Obama had delivered a speech to an anti-war rally in Chicago.
He said, “I don’t oppose all wars. … What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”
Regarding the justifications for war with Iraq, state Sen. Obama was unpersuaded: “I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied U.N. resolutions, thwarted U.N. inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. … But … Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.”
As American forces join the war against Moammar Gadhafi, the nation is entitled to an explanation. How is the case for war against Gadhafi smarter (remember, Obama is only against “dumb” wars) or less “ideological” or more prudent than that for war against Saddam?
Certainly, with an army of only 50,000, Gadhafi represents far less of a threat to his neighbors or to us than did Saddam, who commanded an army estimated at 350,000. As for humanitarian concerns, what Gadhafi is doing to the rebels in Libya is exactly what Saddam did to his domestic enemies, but on a reduced scale. As Obama himself said, Saddam was “a ruthless man … who butchers his own people to secure his power.” Yet that didn’t justify a war, state Sen. Obama told us.
Sen. Obama did not believe that Saddam posed a danger to the United States or to his neighbors — though he had attacked or invaded three of his neighbors: Iran, Kuwait and Israel. Yet Gadhafi has hardly ranged beyond his own borders.
While Obama (like the rest of the world) was convinced that Saddam had “developed chemical and biological weapons” — and though he knew that Saddam had actually attacked his own people from the air with chemical weapons — he didn’t think that his possession of those weapons warranted war. In Gadhafi’s case, there is no threat of WMD, as the dictator flamboyantly relinquished his WMD program after seeing Saddam’s fate.
How are Obama’s motives regarding military action against Gadhafi less “cynical” than those he was so contemptuous of in Wolfowitz and Perle? What “ideological agenda” was the Bush administration “shoving down our throats” that Obama is not himself duplicating? Is he opposed to the freedom agenda? What, exactly, was so obnoxious about the Bush program?
How has Obama concluded that a war against another Middle East villain is now justified and not “dumb” or “rash”? And on what principle can President Obama now decline to intervene on behalf of other freedom fighters around the globe?
We don’t know, because unlike George W. Bush, who took his case for war to the American people through a vote in the U.S. Congress (with 110 Democrats voting in favor), President Obama has acted unilaterally — putting our forces into harm’s way based solely on his power as commander in chief. (Code Pink — call your office!) If he is relying upon the vote in the United Nations as his mandate for military action, he is establishing a new principle of diminished U.S. sovereignty. American forces can now be ordered into action by the president and the United Nations but without the U.S. Congress?
On most of the foreign and security policy issues he preened himself about — the folly of deposing despots, closing the prison at Guantanamo, using military tribunals to try terrorists and withdrawing from Iraq — President Obama has reversed himself.
He has performed these reversals without explanation and without apology for his shrill condemnation of his predecessor. He condemned Bush’s “ideology,” but his own foreign policy seems to have amounted to marketing the image of himself as the first African-American president and the first Muslim-sympathetic president. Image-making is easier than policymaking — and when it came time for decisions, President Obama dissolved into incoherence.