Obama's war of choice

In Libya, the president fails to learn the lessons of Kosovo — and unintentionally encourages more violent Arab revolts

Daniel Larison

The U.S. launched a new war of choice on Saturday with the first American missile strikes on targets in Libya. Following President Obama’s unexpected about-face last week, the administration went from expressing caution and skepticism about entering Libya’s civil war to a strong endorsement of a broad U.N. mandate to use force to protect civilians from Moammar Gadhafi's forces. After minimal consultation with some members of Congress, no debate or vote on Capitol Hill, and no meaningful public discussion of the possible consequences and dangers of effectively siding with Libya’s rebels, the administration has since made contradictory statements about the goals and extent of the mission, which has contributed to general confusion at home and abroad about what, if anything, U.S. strategy in Libya might be.

Obama has committed U.S. forces to military action that violates every rule of the so-called Powell Doctrine, and he has done so arbitrarily, without authorization from Congress, despite having stated as a candidate that such action is unconstitutional. No national security interests are at stake in Libya, there is nothing like a public consensus in support of the mission, the U.S. is not using overwhelming force, nor is it using force as a last resort. There are no clear goals, and what goals we can discern (such as protecting civilians) seem poorly matched to the military tactics of a no-fly zone and airstrikes that the U.S. and allies are employing. The Libyan war combines executive usurpation of war powers with ill-considered humanitarian interventionist goals, in a sort of hybrid of the worst traits of the wars of George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

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