Monday, March 28, 2011

What are we Doing in the Middle East?

This article in The Hill linked above makes us as a nation seem rudderless, leaderless, and aimless. It leads to the question "What are we doing in Libya?" If we did not go into Libya based on any sense of precedent or consistency, then why did we go? Are we going to keep making unprecedented decisions that use our borrowed money, risk our precious lives, and are short-sighted, in that they are only based on best achieving our interests (which, without using precedent or consistency can be nothing but short sighted)? This is really disturbing to me.
The seeming confusion reigns up to now, with the President due to finally make a speech about why we went into Libya, and how things are going there. The article goes further to suggest that it is likely Mr. Obama will not lay out any foreign policy that would define "any doctrine encompassing the administration’s philosophy for intervening in foreign conflicts." This seems like the perfect time to do so, since there are several other countries with similar uprisings happening right now in that very region. I hope our press is downplaying hopes so that when the President does outline a consistent, thoughtful strategy that keeps American interests first and foremost, we will be pleasantly surprised. I will be relieved if he does lay out some sort of philosophy that can be used to foreshadow out military involvement in any other countries in the region, because if not, he will have to once more come before us and Congress, and make basically the case for whatever other intervention he chooses to make.

One thing that needs to be said, though it seems obvious to me is that the President should be a leader, have a plan ahead of any invasion, and get the American people on-board for any future invasions or "kinetic military actions" that risk American lives and treasure. Giving a speech a week or two after military action has begun seems like following, not leading. Being a leader entails risk, but also yields big rewards. In this case, the risk is that some may not be on board with the military action, but the reward is that our mission is defined, and with a coherent strategy and public voice, the nation will be behind whatever action is taken. Such leadership could also go far toward showing that our President is a leader, and that he deserves to be re-elected. By putting forth a philosophy or doctrine, our friends and enemies can take note and respect our position, even if they disagree with it. It would help to stabilize the world money and oil markets, as well, keeping the price of gas from going higher. With such a strategy publicly stated, our President could then leave the details unspoken, and keep our enemies more afraid of us, because we could then take any tactical action we deem necessary to protect our national interests.

That leads to another point: we need to clearly define our national interests both in Libya, and elsewhere. For example, I don't consider a life lost to a dictator in Iran any less valuable than one lost to a dictator in Libya. Nor are they less valuable in Syria, so if the point is to stop genocide, let's broaden our scope to take on all similar deadly dictators. If the lives of Innocent people plus oil interests in a country are the real motivation, then let's say so, and define where those interests lie. This line of reasoning sounds cold and cruel, but it more sounds even cold and capriciously cruel to me to pick one genocide over another to use our military might to stop. Then we truly are playing God, not just looking out for our vital national interests.

The final point is the concept of vital national interests. Our President needs to define for us what he considers our vital national interests in Libya, and elsewhere. What makes an interest "vital" is that if we do not address it, it will pose a direct threat to the lives of Americans. That threat must be against our citizens lives, our sovereignty, our national security, or have a severe impact on our economy, such that it would weaken our country. An argument could be made for other wars, such as WWII, where Japan attacked our sovereign territory, and Hitler stated and demonstrated that he intended to rule the world. It was a little less clear in Vietnam, though you could point to the attacks on our military people in the Gulf of Tonkin. Gulf War I was about Iraq invading a sovereign country and threatening our oil supplies, both from Iraq with Kuwait, and from Saudi Arabia. If Iraq had been able to take over the Middle East, it would have had a severe economic impact on our country, and made us more vulnerable to other hostile nations. Gulf War II was the result of Saddam Husein threatening our allies in the region again, and the attack on our homeland by Al-Qaeda from his base in Afghanistan.
In each case listed, there have been anti-war protesters, and detractors who don't believe there was justification for those wars. Truth be told, they probably would have been against any and all wars. I therefore discount all of those detractors, who are a loud, but small minority. Our President came before the American people and addressed our imminent entry into each of those wars before we sent anyone into war. In each case, even if I did not buy into the reasoning of the President, there was a national speech and some national political dialogue about going to war. In the case of this Libyan "kinetic military action", however, this has been sorely lacking. We have heard conflicting objectives such as
  • "Kadhafi must go"
  • "Regime change in Libya is not our objective."
  • "It's time for Qaddafi to step down."
  • "We will impose a no-fly zone"
  • "Our aircraft have targeted tanks and forces loyal to Kadaffi."
  • "There will be no 'Boots on the ground'".
  • "Our rescue teams have recovered the pilots who ejected from their F-15 Fighting Eagle."
So what will we get tonight from our President? We'll see.

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