Libya, Obama, and Rachel Maddow
WASHINGTON — News from people on the ground, including experts, reveal there really isn’t a strategic reason for Pres. Obama to have engaged the U.S. in the Libya no-fly zone. Now that Pres. Obama finally admits Gadhafi could stay, which could be seen in the tea leaves from the start, the perils of the President’s war of choice are coming home.
Rachel Maddow, working diligently to prove otherwise, correctly slammed the Right’s Sen. Lindsay Graham and others, as well as the notion of impeachment that was always a non-starter. Her purpose of pushing the marketing aspect of Obama’s reluctance, as well as his smaller U.S. foot print mantra, didn’t hold up for very long on Monday night or last night either.
The Democratic support for Obama on Libya is well-meaning, of that I have no doubt. But it’s sorely out of step with reality, which John Judis proves accidentally, especially when you consider Obama’s inaction on Iran in ’09, Egypt, not to mention what’s happening in Bahrain, which forces the U.S. to be on the side against the people looking for freedom, because of national interests. When you look at Syria exploding and Yemen as well, if this is our policy, our no-fly efforts look like the beginnings of interminable interventionism. That’s not going to happen, so Pres. Obama’s reasoning of humanitarian quickly starts to collapse in on itself, resembling cherry picking of political favorites.
Richard Engel provided the proof that U.S. intelligence on Libya was not only scant but non-existent, which could prove dangerously embarrassing for the American President if Obama doesn’t extricate our military quickly and even then questions will ultimately linger. When Maddow asked Engel what kind of impact the strikes were having on Gadhafi’s forces, saying the “declared strategy” was to “make things safe enough for the rebels that they can win on their own,” Engel revealed the intelligence chasm the U.S. is operating under.
“Ooh, that’s going to be a tough one. These rebels are, they’re divided into two groups. They’re the volunteers and these rebels have really no military experience, very little sophistication, very little education. A lot of bravado, but when the actual fighting happens most of them run away. We were with rebels today who didn’t know how to load their weapons. They were dropping rounds of ammunition on the ground. A lot of them are fighting for weird conspiracy theories. I would say 1 in 5 of the rebels told me today that they’re fighting because they think Gadhafi is Jewish. …The other of the rebels is people, units that have defected from Gadhafi’s army and if we’re waiting for these defected units to go and suddenly storm the front lines I think we’re going to be waiting a little bit longer. I went looking for one of the top commanders here in Tobruk, actually the top commander in Tobruk and we went to the military base and we knocked on the door. He’s decided to take the day off. And I was shocked at that. You would think if the U.S. military had just joined your revolution after two plus days that this wouldn’t be the time to go home and spend some time with the family.
“Unbelievable,” Ms. Maddow responded. Indeed.
Unlike Egypt or even Iran’s Green uprising in ’09, both of which Pres. Obama and his administration sat back and watched unfold, at first even backing Mubarak, after initial deliberative reticence Pres. Obama jumped in to have the U.S. military lead the way on the no-fly zone on Libya, obviously unaware the composition of the rebels U.S. firepower was protecting. Huffington Post’s David Wood revealed this early on, with some of them “anti-American extremists.”
The reasoning Obama intervened was on humanitarian grounds, with U.S. foreign policy rarely if ever having a consistent strategy on what constitutes this reality. Pres. Obama answered questions on Libya, but even he went ’round in circles, talking about limited military actions, along with “Gadhafi’s got to go” as policy, which isn’t regime change. It was… um… nuts.
And as hard as the White House is pushing back on the women inside the Obama administration having a leading role on Libya, which quite a few males in the media have channeled, there is absolutely nothing that convinces me that the strong diplomatic work of Sec. Clinton, with Dr. Rice’s lead at the U.N. to muscle abstentions instead of objections, aided significantly by Samantha Power and her history of influence on Barack Obama, didn’t play a lead role in guiding the Administration to where Obama landed. The notion that these women have to be in the room when the decision is actually made to have led the argument to strike in Libya is preposterous. But the White House doesn’t like the meme, so tapping political writers to push back by giving them access isn’t surprising as a counter narrative.
Neera Tanden, former policy director for Senator Clinton and now COO of Center for American Progress, tried again yesterday on MSNBC to make the Democratic argument for humanitarian intervention. Keep in mind that the threats to civilians in Benghazi have been mitigated already, which Tanden admitted, so she was forced to dance on the head of Obama’s diplomatic pin to keep from talking about “regime change,” something from which Arab allies would recoil. There is no tape, but this is a good transcript I did myself:
“Look, we have a humanitarian crisis and that is what has sponsored this incredible outgrowth of international support to our Arab allies. And so I think what’s holding this coalition together is really strong support for stopping a madman from literally killing and slaughtering his own people. And that objective is actually being achieved as we speak. Benghazi was on the throes of being overrun and that was stopped in its tracks. I think we can debate ultimate goals… ..” – Neera Tanden, COO Center for American Progress
The “ultimate goals” of Pres. Obama lie somewhere between “Gadhafi’s got to go” and humanitarianism, the latter having already been achieved.
Enter France’s Pres. Sarkozy, because going back years his “brain child,” if you will, has been the creation of an economic and political Mediterranean Union comprised of Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey, which is supposed to “bridge Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.” (Bernard-Henri Levy mentioned this last night on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show.) Sarkozy has a reason for leading the no-fly zone mission, even if he doesn’t have the military to begin it, so the importance of Pres. Obama handing off to him is critical.
The problem then becomes political for Obama, because the humanitarian aspect of the Libyan question was far away from any genocide standard, with “Gadhafi must go” a preference but simply not in America’s vital interests, because no one has a fricking clue what would replace him. The confusion of the mission coupled with the real leader being France, because of Sarkozy’s goal, is something that’s very hard to explain to a United States audience that expects America to be out front on every mission even if it’s not in our interest to do so.
Sen. Lindsay Graham helps this storyline by expecting Pres. Obama to make this no-fly effort a mission it simply is not, with the U.S. having absolutely no business attempting regime change. The Arab League backing the initial no-fly effort would freak if that’s what this morphed into, but Obama’s been his own worst enemy on this aspect.
Somewhere between Richard Engel’s reporting, which shows absolutely no fervor, let alone organization, from Libyan rebels close to Iran in ’09 and certainly not Egypt’s organized uprising, and our military interventionism, which is in Sarkozy’s personal interest, Obama’s foreign doctrine is being revealed as haphazardly incoherent.
It’s positively depressing to be a progressive liberal and watch this national security insanity unfold.
That’s why you have experts like Steve Clemons going on Rachel Maddow and other shows carefully tiptoeing around what’s unfolding and trying mightily not to be critical of Pres. Obama, while simultaneously saying the whole effort is worrisome.
So, in the first two segments of her show on Monday, as Ms. Maddow tried to separate Pres. Obama from his presidential predecessors, while also attempting to show him as a reluctant warrior, even as he ordered the U.S. military-led bombings to continue, everything fell apart. Because her guests provided evidence that regardless of Obama trying to go about his day job in a business as usual manner, keeping his South American job outreach on schedule, the rationale for authorizing military strikes unraveled before Maddow’s audiences’ eyes, with neither Richard Engel or Steve Clemons helping her case at all. It happened again last night.
Rachel Maddow is as good as they get on the issues, but she and others trying to make a positive case for Obama’s actions in Libya are really being put to the test.
It’s not turning out very well so far.
Taylor Marsh is a political analyst, writer and commentator on national politics. A veteran national politics writer, Taylor’s been writing on the web since 1996. She has reported from the White House, been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and has been seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her blog.