Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | March 29, 2011

Clue: The Air Strike Version

President Obama seemed, in his speech on Libya Monday night, to have to back himself by process of elimination into the one particular solution he has chosen. He accomplished this through navigating between a series of arguments against implied strawmen, and a set of positive statements.  The reasoning seems to have gone something like this:

We Americans don’t want to regime-change evil dictators, because that’s not the kind of exceptional nation we are.  (Strawman argument)  We are an exceptional nation, of course.  (Positive statement)  Our exceptionalness drives us to protect innocent civilians from harm.  (Positive statement)  But our exceptionalness can’t be acted on at our discretion (strawman argument); it must be given the cover of an international coalition of unexceptional nations (positive statement).  Nor is it allowable for our exceptionalness to put us in a leadership role (strawman argument); we must participate as just one nation among many (positive statement).

Military force, meanwhile, is not the right way to persuade a brutal dictator to depart his office.  (Strawman argument)  Military force is appropriate for the purpose of preventing harm to civilians. (Positive statement) When we are using military force against a dictator, therefore, we are not trying to regime-change him (strawman argument); we are merely trying to protect civilians (positive statement).

As for the principle of protecting civilians, it is effectively contingent.  Obama’s outline of the brief against Qaddafi was perhaps the most interesting part of the speech, in that it seemed to qualify and quantify what constitutes an actionable threat to civilians.  Other autocrats elsewhere may be killing their defenseless civilians, but none of them is the solution to the Clue: The Air Strike Version conundrum.

— The mullahs in Iran may have been beating their people to death and imprisoning and torturing them, but they haven’t been bombing them from the air.

— Assad in Syria may be shooting his people in the street, but he isn’t firing on them with main battle tanks.

— The emir of Bahrain may have deployed tanks against his people, but he hasn’t killed 1000 of them in a day.

— Yemen’s old dictator may be engaged in an armored-force duel with his opposition in the streets of the nation’s capital, but he’s in Yemen, and the stand-off there isn’t a countrywide civil war in which a rebel-held city the size of Benghazi is about to fall to Saleh’s forces.

Adducing all these very specific clues, Obama at length comes up with the winning solution: “Muammar Qaddafi, in Libya, in March 2011.”

A key problem with this quasi-Socratic approach to policy discovery is that it does come off so much like a game (or a seminar exercise).  That in itself sends an unfortunate signal.  But Obama’s earnest, comprehensively explanatory polemic last night created another, very specific one.  If Obama wants Qaddafi out – as he said he did in the speech – then by any sensible analysis, the one audience that ought to be convinced of the coalition’s threat to the Qaddafi regime is Qaddafi. Why make the point to him that it would be wrong for the force being used against him to dislodge him from power? – and that the force in question is most certainly not intended to?

Perhaps, in the end, because Obama rarely makes any kind of positive, declaratory policy statement about foreign affairs or national security.  He gives explanations, and constructs arguments against whole brigades of strawmen.  He identifies pretty clearly which of the world’s conditions he will routinely decry.  We have a fair idea what he’s against.  But as far as we know, in the realm of foreign policy, there is hardly anything he’s so much in favor of that he would adjust his freshman-seminar rhetoric to effectively promote it – or to avoid undermining its prospects.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.” She writes a weekly column for Patheos.



  1. Like Bush 43 or not, how much do you miss having the person in the WH be straightforward about things when he spoke to the American public? Even those who didn’t like him have to admit he was at least principled and unequivocal.

    • We should all miss Bush not a bit. Being straighforward while ordering fabulously errant actions is not the stuff of fond remembrance.

  2. I believe the man has a consistent world-view: vulgar marxism + third-worldism. Savvy Alinskyite that he is, Obama conceals these ideas beneath layers of PR cotton candy. Because he knows they would be rejected if they were stated forthrightly. This mendaciousness applies as much to international affairs as to domestic ones.
    Regarding international affairs, the guiding principle is that since Amerikkka is an imperialist nation with much to apologize for, we must never to go to war with the clear, stated intention of advancing our national interests. The chief — maybe sole — justification for going to war is to promote universal humanitarian goals as defined by a consensus of the ‘international community’ as incarnated in the United Nations. The Daffy Duck regime is so universally unpopular that it was simply too good a test case to pass up. I fear we will see more of this fantastic approach to international affairs during the next two years.

    • Well, Art, in judging the cogency of your “beliefs” as to the president’s “worldview”, it might be worthwhile to take a look at how some of your statements of ‘fact’ measure up to the reality.
      The “Daffy Duck regime” (presumably referring to this administration) is manifestly NOT universally unpopular. In fact, its poll-ratings are pretty high and holding up pretty well. Measured by the popularity or otherwise of Obama, each and every potential Republican candidate for 2012 appears “universally unpopular” – some, like Palin, are just unelectable because their constituency is confined to an angry, resentful, enraged, and extreme minority.

      What you should have said is that this administration is universally unpopular among an angry, resentful, enraged, and extreme minority which is incapable of acknowledging the legitimacy of their president.

      Tough. Get over it.

      p.s. I don’t agree with this war either – but my reasons are for – well – reasons, not because I hate the president.

      • Not only are your conspiracy theory type “facts” well off the mark Paulite, but so are your assumptions. The “Daffy Duck” regime that Art is referring to is not the Obama administration, but Colonel Qadaffi’s regime. Or should I say – Colonel QaDAFFY?”

  3. The only thing more embarrassing than Obama’s performance as President is the number of people who voted for him and would again.

    “But our exceptionalness can’t be acted on at our discretion (strawman argument); it must be given the cover of an international coalition of unexceptional nations”

    I didn’t watch Obama’s speech, (I’m haven’t that strong a stomach;) did he really say or even imply that the coalition is composed of ‘unexceptional’ nations? If so, that would be a degree of political tone deafness, truly stupefying.

  4. BHO says: ” We will safeguard the more than $33 billion that was frozen from the Gadhafi regime so that it’s available to rebuild Libya. After all, the money doesn’t belong to Gadhafi or to us — it belongs to the Libyan people. And we’ll make sure they receive it.”
    Really! And how does he propose to do that?

    • Western Union.

    • The Casa Blanca keeps telling us that they’re targeting first air defences and then Libyan military units. What’s to rebuild?

  5. Now I get it. Brilliant OC.

  6. The speech wa an exercise in post-decision rationalization.

    The Dude-in-Chief bombed Libya because Hillary threatened to resign (and, I suspect, to run against him in the 2012 primary). When he caved (as he always does), Hillary spun it, through the gullible NYTimes, as the three witches persuading MacObama to change his ways.

    What is particularly galling is the fact that the Dude’s favorite form of warfare is bombing from the air — see his drone warfare in Pakistan. Yet here he is, lamenting Qaddafi’s bombing of his own people. What’s the Dude’s point: air bombing strangers is a blow for liberty but air bombing tribal rivals is verbotten?

    Even worse is the Dude’s attitude towards the soldiers/sailors/marines/aircorps (that’s “corpse” to you, Dude) — they’re just his mercenaries, to be loaned — or, forgive the expression, “volunteered” — to the A-rab League, or the UN, or whatever international community steering committee asks for them. Methinks that, someday soon, our military will just say no to this would-be slave master.

  7. Secretary Gates is correct. The civil war in Libya is not a Vital National Interest situation. Picking and choosing Dictators ????? Libya is a sideshow.
    The Big Picture is: The Arab World is throwing off the yoke of one kind of strongman dictator rule (tribal/military/secular) and moving toward another dictatorial rule (tribal/islamist/military).
    The west is running around with its’ hair on fire because there is nothing to be done.
    If the majority of the “Arab Street” wishes to return to the Seventh Century, it will happen.
    V.S. Naipaul commented many years ago (traveling through Iran) “It is much easier to don the cloak of mystical religious poppy cock than earn an engineering degree and actually accomplish something.” Very lose paraphrase.
    We will cut whatever deals we have to in order to continue the flow of oil.
    In a 100 years, when the US (later for China and India) moves away from oil, the Arab world will return to wilderness and complete un-importance. ( Unless a Democratic Administration suggests foreign aid for Mullahs that no longer have any income. A Humanitarian concern, of course.)

    • marvelous thought, reed, a pure marvel, but governments don’t usually enjoy the luxury of ignoring current events in an area vital to our interests because a hundred years or more from now things there will be of little import.

      perhaps you might wait a hundred years, then re-publish your comment.

      • Please read the sentence that states we will cut whatever deals we have to in order to protect our oil supply. That does not ignore current events. We will act in our self interest.
        This does not change the very long and somewhat dark picture of the middle east that MAY be looming.
        The long term projection is accurate. No oil, no vital interest.

        • reed, spare some regard for this, if you would:
          some folks, such as our hostess, regard providing security for Israel as a vital interest of the US. other folks think that we have an strong interest in suppressing the radical side of Islam and insuring that it doesn’t spread westward through Turkey and into Europe. still others think that de-coupling Pakistan from (Saudi) Arabian influence is greatly important as the Pakistanis already possess that which we greatly desire that the Iranians don’t come to possess.

          • Americas ability to control events in in the Middle East is an illusion. Strongmen with our support kept the lid on the street for a while. It was the right thing to do.
            All we can do is continue to pursue our interests in an increasingly hostile situation.
            In short, “the cat is out of the bag.” Control in the Middle East is like perspective. It is never there when you need it. Regards.

    • I would go further and say that who runs Libya, Iraq, Iran, Egypt or Syria, is not a matter of vital interest to the US. The internal arrangements of these countries are a matter for themselves, just as our internal arrangements are none of their business. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet learned this lesson after spending zillions of dollars and wasting or destroying thousands of American, and God only knows how many foreign, lives. All we have managed to do is destabilize an entire region, and fatally taint our values in the eyes of the entire Moslem world. The children of the bereaved from our wars of choice and victims of the despots we supported are the real self-inflicted terrorist threat. We need to break the circle rather than perpetuate it.

      I do however take issue with one thing you say. The Arabs and other Moslems have enthusiastically embraced science, engineering, and medicine and the other incidences of the modern technological world. What they haven’t embraced is the liberal western ethic. It is entirely their business if they want more protective and paternalistic societies. However, it is far more likely that peace and the evolution of a prosperous middleclass would produce reform and liberalization than having it thrust down their throats by F16s and B52s piloted by the same folks who gave them the Shah of Iran and Hosni Muberak.

      • “I would go further and say that who runs Libya, Iraq, Iran, Egypt or Syria, is not a matter of vital interest to the US”

        You won’t be singing that tune when those countries are part of a nuclear armed, Iranian/Muslim Brotherhood led alliance (where the upheaval in the ME is leading). That is unless you’re a complete surrender monkey…

        That alliance will, predictably, hold the price of oil hostage for extreme political and monetary concessions from the west and then, out of fanaticism, arrange to have nukes ‘stolen’ (plausible deniability), which will coincidentally end up in the hands of terrorist groups, who then use them against US cities. (just smuggle it on board a freighter, bound for a major US harbor and set it off well within the harbor)

        And to preemptively address the predictable, “oh, that will never happen ” or “they’re too rational” response…9/11 with 19 guys with box cutters wasn’t supposed to happen either and, religious fanatics are either not ‘rational’ or their rationality hinges on premises which allow for that degree of violent fanaticism.

        So if God forbid, that scenario does play out, will you have the intellectual honesty to admit your arguments culpability in the loss of all those lives, at least partly due to your (and others of like mind) predictable current derision at even the possibility?

        Perhaps we will get lucky and it won’t happen but to cavalierly dismiss it, given the millions of lives at stake would be the height of irresponsibility. And if we can’t dismiss it, the argument must reflect that reality.

        So far, nothing you’ve said reflects that reality, which makes you either ignorant, purposely obtuse or some combination thereof.

        • Well, Geoff,

          I could worry about alien abduction too. But I prefer to save my worries for threats which are supported by evidence rather than fevered paranoia.

          • What a predictable response. Thank you for making my point. There’s plenty of evidence, only the willfully obtuse don’t recognize where the ME is headed.

            That cavalier dismissal gives us a preview of just how intellectually dishonest you shall be, in refusing to acknowledge your intellectual culpability, when the Caliphate emerges in the near future.

            The reason you can’t see it paulite is because you’re more interested in “being right”, the one with the ‘superior understanding’ (which always springs from insecurity) than in ‘getting it’ right.

            Nearly every nation in the ME is teetering on the brink of collapsing into the hands of the extremist radicals. All the momentum is on their side and the historical dynamics of the region heavily favor the coalescence of national aspirations into a greater union. That political/religious union is a natural response by a ‘religion’ which is mortally threatened by exposure to the modernity of the west.

            Iranian agitators led protesters in the recent Bahrain protests in chanting for the creation of a new caliphate. It’s been one of the stated goals of nearly every radical Islamist group for years and only the willfully naive assert that goal to have lost its attraction to the radicals or the Islamic masses.

            Six months after the Caliphate emerges you’ll be telling everyone, that with hindsight, it’s emergence was obvious and predictably, monday morning quarterbacking the purported failure of the west’s leaders to see the virtually certain outcome of the current turmoil in the M.E.

            • Geoffrey, there can’t be any caliphate established for as long as there is not even a dominant branch of Islam about.

            • Repeating the word “obtuse” and the phrase “intellectual dishonest” ad nauseum doesn’t an argument make. To contend that there is some great unified Moslem conspiracy to impose some sort of “Caliphate” or “Sharia” law is to argue in the face of the evidence. The facts are that there is no Caliphate, even within the Moslem world (Which might be the logical place for the Islamists to start – rather than in countries like the western democracies where only a tiny proportion of the population is Moslem), and there are as many conflicting interpretations of Islamic law as there are Protestant sects in our own country.

              But as we know from the 1930s, it suits those whose purpose is to stir up hate and fear to portray the people who it is intended to demonize as a co-ordinated, malevolent, and monolithic existential threat.

              • yeah, the Paulites of the 1930s were very sure that demonizing that Mr Hitler was a mistake.

              • Often you are smart. Sometimes you are smartass. This is one of the latter occasions. You do ‘smart’ much better.

                I was not, of course, referring to the isolationism which was much in vogue in right-wing circles in the years between the two world wars.
                I am not an isolationist. I believe that the US has a vital and leading role to play in the international order. However, I also believe that military intervention should not be considered unless there are vital national interests at stake, and then only where convincing reasons exist as to why military intervention is the only realistic option remaining, and its disadvantages are not outweighed by its likely drawbacks.
                Nazi Germany and its allies had become an existential threat to the western democracies – and to the vital interests of our nation – by the time of Munich in 1938. Had we stood side by side with the French and British in 1939 Hitler and the Russians probably wouldn’t have invaded Poland. However, civil war in Libya, non-existent WMD’s, and non-existent involvement in 9/11 are not sufficient reasons for the use of US military force. To compare Al Quaeda and the rest of the rag-bag of third world nonentities with the axis powers is to lose it completely.

                What I was of course referring to was the demonization of Jews by portraying them as a monolithic alien threat to western culture and society. The script for Geller, Gaffney, Shussel, and Pipes was written for them by Dr. Goebbles. At least the latter monster could boast of originality.

              • Paulite, I don’t know what the heck you might mean by “standing side by side” with Britain and France at Munich, but it is unlikely in the extreme that the US’s moral support would have mattered.
                We certainly had nothing else with which to deter Hitler in 1939, thanks in good measure to the Paulites of the time who were declaring that the US had an important role in world affairs but no vital interest in participating in any of those little squabbles that inevitably would crop up in Old Europe.

              • Do you seriously believe that if the US had stood shoulder to shoulder in a formal entente with Britain and France and had told Hitler that any further land-grabs would mean war with the three democracies that Hitler would have seized Czechslovakia or Poland (Or that the Soviets would have signed up to the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact)?

                We now know that the seizure of rump Czechslovakia was an action that Hitler and his generals only took after much agonizing. They knew that Germany was not yet ready for a general war (In fact, they overestimated the capabilities of the French and British). Had the Germans been forced to factor-in the prospect of facing the US as well, they might well have made different decisions (To turn east and invade the USSR in 1940)
                As for the CIA engineered coups, military interventions, etc. in the Arab and Moslem worlds – we don’t need to depend on speculation. All have been a disaster for the US.
                It’s a pity that you didn’t read my earlier reply. I am not, nor have I ever been (As they say) an isolationist in the sense that term was used in the period between the wars. Neither is Rand Paul. However, we should be far more reticent in our use of military power (or any other form of intervention in foreign countries – including, the provision of aid to people who don’t share or values or contradict our interests). The US military, the lives of our young people, and lastly, our tax-dollars should never be squandered on unnecessary foreign adventures.

                One final thought. The anti-Islam hate-campaign which is gaining momentum in our nation: Had you asked any of the leading Nazis and their sympathizers in the right-wing media, say, in 1930, if they would agree with the mass-murder of the Jews of Europe, I have no doubt, most would have expressed horror and disgust at the very thought. They would never have accepted that their “freedom of expression” in relentlessly publishing negative news and half-truths could lead to the conditions for genocide. But then we had a war. And war desensitizes. The same thing happened in Bosnia. Those who stir up hatred never want to understand that you cannot dine al a carte on hate and zenophobia. The poet and psychiatrist, Karadec, and the intellectual, aesthete, and musician, Heydrich, are rightly among the most reviled figures of the last century. If men of reason and education could become so debased, don’t believe that the likes of a Gaffney or Geller couldn’t do the same or worse if they had the conditions and opportunity.

                Regards. P

              • yes I do. the US had no army to speak of and what little it had, had no equipment. not even enough rifles.

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  9. The problem about all your attempts at analysis is that it is stunted from birth by your prejudices.

    I don’t agree with our involvement in this military intervention. However, the President gave a coherent speech cogently setting out his reasons (With which I disagree), and the motives and interests he was balancing. He also made it clear that he expected the Europeans (whose interests are far more implicated in Libya) to shoulder the greater burden. Whatever anyone says about this intervention, one has to welcome the fact that this President is getting the Europeans to take more responsibility for defence and military matters.

    Your reference to “straw men” is merely contrived. There are none. What there is is a situation in which any US president can be damned by someone if he does, and damned by someone (probably by some of the same somebodies) if he doesn’t. I can imagine the screeching from the usual suspects on the extreme neo-conservative right if Ghaddafi were in Benghazi murdering his opponents.

    Now, if its “straw men” you are after, try (non-existent) WMD, and (non-existent) involvement in 9/11, or even (non-existent) contacts with Al Quaeda. Or should we refer to these latter straw men more properly as trojan horses?

    Lets see how it pans out. Can’t be anything nearly as bad as the gadzillion dollar tragic debacles Cheney and Co foisted on us.

    Regards, “Demagog” (Strawgog?)

    • So you don’t agree with military force directed at Libya but it’s OK because BHO explained his side and the Euros are doing the heavy lifting and he’d be criticized no matter what he did and at least he’s not Dick Cheney? OK.

      • Not quite what I said, Chuck. Perhaps you might read it again.

  10. Obama’s Libyan Strategery

    For those who study history
    And military strategy,
    A new approach to waging war
    In ways that were untried before,
    Is rarely seen or heard:
    The old ways are preferred.

    But in these times of global strife,
    With sounds of drum and notes of fife,
    A new man joins the hall of fame
    Of leaders who receive acclaim,
    For strategy in war,
    Too brilliant to ignore.

    With Hannibal, Napoleon,
    And Kahn, the great Mongolian,
    With Brennus and with Pericles
    With Sun Tzu and Eurybiades,
    Our President does share
    A real strategic flair.

    He joins in war, almost too late,
    Makes public his withdrawal date,
    Commences action from the air,
    Then makes his enemies aware
    He’ll not attack on land,
    Across the desert sand.

    Within just days, perhaps a week,
    His reputation and mystique
    For managing the world’s affairs
    Achieves its peak when he declares
    He’ll bomb the rebels too,
    For things that they might do.

    Perhaps another Nobel Prize
    Our friends from Stockholm could reprise,
    For excellence in strategy
    While waging war on Tripoli.
    It’s merited, at worst,
    As much as was the first.

    • won with more merit, verily,
      said slightly merrily, than the lost light
      to be found in your verse.

  11. So ex Gitmo detainees and other jihadist elements, who waged war on coalition forces
    in Iraq, during the Anbar Awakening, make up the core of the rebels, tell me how this will end well, And as we’ve seen the Ilkwan is the largest single common faction in most of these countries

    • Stop tilting at windmills. There is an allegation that a few of our ex-allies in the Taliban have turned up in Libya. To extrapolate that bit of speculation into “make up the core of the rebels” is sheer hysteria.

      This debate is drifting into “Protocals of Islam” territory.

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