Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Obama and Libya

The rebels have won in Libya. An evil dictator has been driven from power and into hiding, his regime crushed. An enemy of our country has been eliminated. The people of Libya now have a chance for freedom and democracy.

Think of every justification that has been given for the Iraq conflict. Think of every good thing that has come from eliminating Hussein. All of these things are also true about eliminating Gaddafi. Obama's military adventure has accomplished just as much as Bush's military adventure, at a tiny fraction of the cost.

No American lives were lost, as far as we know. The marginal cost to the military budget was tiny. Almost nobody, anywhere in the world, thinks that America acted as an aggressive imperial power. This will not help anybody recruit more terrorists against us.

It is possible that the rebels will fail to form a decent government, that the country will descend into chaos or produce another dictator. But even that worst-case scenario is no worse than what has already happened in Iraq. And even if it does happen, it will not be our problem. We will not be stuck in the middle and nobody will blame us. We gave the Libyan people a chance for freedom, and their chances of making it work are at least as good as the Iraqis' chances.

Obama has proven himself to be an effective commander-in-chief, the right person for a complex world where the primary use of military force is for civilized nations to protect people in other countries from violence and oppression. He was presented with a tough situation, made a difficult but necessary choice, and managed the situation well. He was good at building consensus and alliances for this fight, and we could not have done this without allies. We did not have enough firepower in the theater and we did not have the right connections with the rebels. The other NATO members helped with the former, and several Arab countries helped with the latter. 

As I have said before, the things that Obama's administration is directly responsible for, the things that he does quietly behind the scenes, all seem to be well-managed and produce good results. But whenever Congress gets involved, he shows an astonishing inability to lead them well or produce anything of value. I still blame Congress more, but that is a topic for another post.

Obama will probably not get the credit he deserves for this. The Libyan conflict has been almost unnoticed among the continuing economic mess, and the people who did comment on it tended to complain about Obama for one reason or another.

People have a bad habit of judging things by input rather than output. Many people will see the Iraq conflict's horrible cost of blood and treasure and hate, and then tell themselves that the results must have been worth it, and then congratulate Bush on making 'hard choices'. Then, if they think of the Libyan conflict at all, they will see its tiny cost, think of it as insignificant, and conclude that Obama has no experience handling important things. This is exactly backwards. Obama's Libyan intervention has produced good results for a low price.

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