War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have 700 military bases around the world. What do you think it costs to keep that war machine running? It’s not working. I thought Obama would be for peace, but he’s not. There are no peacemakers left. There’s no antiwar movement to speak of. America just keeps going, keeps fighting, keeps spending.
- Helen Thomas
I must admit to being conflicted. I understand, and support, the humanitarian reason for going to war (or whatever it is we’re doing) in Libya. No reasonable person wants to see a monomaniacal dictator murder innocent civilians for the merely having had the temerity to oppose him. I believe that humanity has a responsibility to protect innocent civilians and noncombatants from the threat of random, indiscriminate slaughter. That, from where I sit, at least, seems inarguable.
Having said that, though, I listened to President Obama’s speech on Libya last night with some very mixed feelings. Yes, I understand that America is uniquely suited to respond to crises like Libya. Unfortunately, that unique capability has made it easy for the rest of the world to rely on America bearing the risks and the costs of intervening militarily in places where other nations could (and arguably should) be front and center. At what point is enough just that? Where do we draw a line, saying that America simply cannot be expected to be the world’s moral policeman?
While we’re policing the world, problems with our own borders continue to fester unaddressed. Health care, education, infrastructure…these are but a few of the very real issues America faces from within today. While no reasonable person would argue for isolationism, I also don’t think it unreasonable that we display the same commitment to Americans that we do to the rest of the world. If we can engage in nation-building in Iraq, Afghanistan, and no doubt soon in Libya, shouldn’t we be able to do the same thing within our own borders?
In press briefings last week, our Libyan campaign was euphemized into a “kinetic military action” and a “time-limited, scope-limited military action.” (The online parodies were merciless: “Make love, not time-limited, scope-limited military actions!” “Let slip the muzzled canine unit of kinetic military action!”)
I’ve heard and read a lot about the idea that Barack Obama has morphed into the Second Coming of George W. Bush. While I think that argument may be a bit on the simplistic side, when it comes to the ability and willingness to wage undeclared war, you couldn’t slide a piece of tissue paper between the two Presidents. Whether Democrat or Republican, a President shouldn’t have the right and ability to put American lives at risk on his own initiative.
Part of the problem is that the power to declare war lies with Congress. Presidents regularly ignore this inconvenient legal reality…albeit without consequence, because Congress refuses to hold Presidents accountable. I firmly believe that something is horribly wrong when we can commitment American blood and treasure to a foreign conflict on the say-so of one man. There needs to be a serious, sober discussion about why, how, and how extensive any military undertaking will be. I realize that this doesn’t make for a speedy resolution…but where American lives are at stake, should speed of decision-making be a consideration?
While we’re at it, it might be a good idea to divine some sort of criteria to define where, when, and how we go to war. If Libya, then why not Egypt? Or Bahrain? Or Yemen? Or Darfur? When is one country a candidate for American intervention but not another? With no coherent policy in place, it’s hard not to escape the conclusion that we’re all about protecting our access to foreign oil…and we certainly couldn’t be that craven…would we??
And of course there are those who, if the President ordered a ham on rye, would be wondering why this President hates white bread….
We live in a world in which the threats are bigger and come to fruition faster…and yet we still have a framework in place for addressing these threats that hasn’t changed since the Gulf of Tonkin. Somehow, we need to adapt to today’s realities and react to current threats with debates and solutions more suited to today than 1964. While we’re at it, it might also be nice if we figured out how we can display the same commitment to America that we do to the rest of the world. For what good will it do if we save the world at the cost of our own economic and social well-being?
I’m all for making the world a better place…but that shouldn’t be America’s primary responsibility and it shouldn’t have to come at the expense of making America a better place. How can we make this country great again when we’re squandering billions upon billions of dollars (and more than a few American lives) in far-flung wars? When last I checked, Barack Obama is President of the United States. “Leader of the Free World” is an honorific, not the job he was elected to. It would be nice if he could see his way clear to devoting the same commitment to issues here at home that he has been to the unrest in the Middle East.