Obama faces a no-win situation with Libya

By Dave Thomas

President Barack Obama laid out his plan for U.S. intervention in Libya in a speech Monday night. And while I don’t think it will be a speech that historians will cherry pick for quotes, I have come to the realization that he has said everything he could say.

I recently blogged about how I believe the U.S. needs to have a clear set of objectives and protocols when engaging in any kind of military action. I specifically referred to the Powell Doctrine, which has a very specific set of criteria.

I do believe there is some value in having some version of the Powell Doctrine in place, but I also see the value in Obama’s points in his Monday night speech.

It lacked specifics on what the objective was. Obama said the goal of the U.S. was not regime change, but it would not tolerate the killing of civilians. This is a pretty open-ended commitment that allows the U.S. to maintain the moral high ground, but if it wanted to, the U.S. could increase the forces it can place on the ground.

But I don’t think it’ll ever get to that point. With Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh in the minds of the Obama administration, Congress and the American people, I highly doubt there will be a major commitment by the U.S. in regards to Libya.

And I think that is for the best. The U.S., unfortunately, is in a ‘damned if you, damned if you don’t’ position.

If the U.S. took a more active role in Libya, those who believe the U.S. is an imperialist power (or one that only declares war on Muslims) will have new ammunition to attack with. But if the U.S. took a passive role, it’d be criticized for not living up to its ideal foreign policy goals.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe the U.S. should pander to the world in terms of how it should react to a particular situation. But a favorable international perception loosens the constraints on the U.S.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all turns out. While I do not believe the U.S. will escalate operations at this point, I wonder if America will knock on Moammar Gadhafi’s door years from now, similar to how the no-fly zone over Iraq eventually transformed into regime change.