March 28, 2011

The President's Speech on Libya

I did not have a quick response to the president's address on Libya because, uh, I went to rugby practice instead of staying in the office to watch. Sorry. But I came home and listened to what the president had to say, and below is a list of some things that worked for me and some things that did not:

Things That Worked For Me:

  1. The part where he described the way in which we escalated our response. I liked how the president stressed the ways in which we escalated force in response to Gadhafi's actions. Careful escalation of force -- as opposed to some "all out, or nothing" nonsense -- is something I, or any other student of low-intensity conflict, can appreciate.
  2. The part where the president contrasted our speed of response in Libya (31 days) to the response to Bosnia in the 1990s (one year) was a particularly impressive thing to point out.
  3. The part where the president pointed out that we are not China. We cannot afford to remain who we are and take some detached, uber-realist view of the world. We do not just let atrocities happen. (Well, we do. But it's true that it offends Americans, in our psyche, to stand aside when atrocities are taking place.) Values matter to the United States -- even when our interests are unclear. We act on our perceived values and do not always take the kind of cold, calculating approach to things that some foreign policy analysts (myself, often, included) wish we would take.

Things That Did Not Work For Me:

  1. Okay, Mr. President, you said Gadhafi should step down from power. And you clearly believe that. So is regime change our policy now? (If so, I'm with you. Just tell me.)
  2. The president articulated an incredibly broad conception of U.S. interests that basically reserves the right for the United States to intervene wherever we see appropriate. Granted, this president seems committed to building strong international support for any intervention, but still, I am scared to death by the prospect of a world-class military paired with humanitarian interventionists willing to use it wherever they see injustice in the world. Because no matter what else I end up doing in life, some part of me will always be that Ranger platoon leader in Iraq in the fall of 2003.
  3. Did anyone else want to know more about the cost of this intervention? Considering this intervention likely wiped out even the most draconian cuts envisioned by the Republicans in the House of Representatives, how the hell are we supposed to both carry out these kinds of military interventions and pay for them? You know what leadership is? Leadership is announcing to every American that their 2011 taxes will go up by $10 per person in order to pay for what we have done. Leadership is making sure people understand that in these times, you cannot have both guns and butter unless you are willing to pay for both.

Overall, though, I think the president did a good job tonight. I think the administration is heading in the direction Zack and I wrote about in our paper today. But the more I think about it, the more #3 makes me angry. There are opportunity costs involved in Libya -- as well as in Afghanistan, and Iraq -- that we still do not have the guts to talk about as a nation.