Middle East

Obama's Formula for Military Intervention

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For those of us struggling to understand Obama's Rules of War, the president offered some clues in his speech about Libya last night:

Some question why America should intervene at all—even in limited ways—in this distant land.  They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing needs here at home.

It's true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right.  In this particular country—Libya—at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

From this statement we can deduce a formula for humanitarian intervention. Let P equal the probability of horrific violence, U equal the unique ability to stop that violence (which is the sum of an international mandate, a broad coalition, Arab support, and a plea for help), and A equal the ability to avoid using ground troops. In that case, P + U + A = Humanitarian Intervention. But note that if the "unique ability" mentioned by Obama (which has to do not with America's military capabilities but with the approval of certain foreigners) really is unique, this situation has never arisen before and may never arise again.

Perhaps I am misreading Obama. Other passages from his speech suggest much wider latitude for military interventions that have nothing to do with national defense:

Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act….

We knew that if we…waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen….

To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action….

There will be times…when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are. Sometimes the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security—responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America's problems alone, but they are important to us. They're problems worth solving.  And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world's most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

In such cases, we should not be afraid to act.

Got that? "We" are morally obligated to intervene in situations where "our [undefined] interests and values are at stake," which include but may not be limited to natural disasters, genocide, mass murder, the threat of war, regional insecurity, and the possibility of disrupted commerce. The only thing that comes through clearly in this speech is the megalomaniacal moral vanity of a man who proudly flouts the Constitution, spends other people's money, and risks other people's lives to satisfy the inscrutable demands of his own troubled conscience.

More on Obama's Libya speech here, here, here, and here.

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  1. The interesting thing about the Libyan civil war is that seems to be mirroring the German/Italian forces vs British forces in the North Africa campaign in WW II (in the same general area). One force advances a couple of hundred miles through uninhabited desert, then gets stuck at a enemy stronghold and is sent running back that same 200 miles (and if you go here, you’ll see the same cities being taken and re-taken).

    Unless Gaddafi gives up or his forces quit on him, I think the NATO coalition o’fun will have to upgrade the commitment to this intervention. They’ll either have to start arming the rebels with equipment, which will necessiate the use of “advisors”, or they’ll start off with special forces aiding the rebels and then work their way up to a full ground forces commitment.

    1. So next step, the Marines invade Morocco?

      1. Operation “Marrakesh Express”.

      2. Perhaps, but they’ll have to upgrade Operation Torch to Operation Photovoltaic Flashlight to be PC about it.

        At least on the plus side we won’t have to worry about a Kasserine Pass happening this time….right?

    2. Well, it is a completely fucked scenerio. From the looks of the guys running the show on the ground, they are dellusional, and don’t stand much of a chance against Moe G. Let’s say for the sake of argument that they some how pull it off. Without American forces on the ground, they’ll fold like Mensheviks to the harder radical element.

    3. Mr. Chartreuse|3.29.11 @ 10:06PM|#
      “The interesting thing about the Libyan civil war is that seems to be mirroring the German/Italian forces vs British forces in the North Africa campaign in WW II (in the same general area). One force advances a couple of hundred miles through uninhabited desert, then gets stuck at a enemy stronghold and is sent running back that same 200 miles (and if you go here, you’ll see the same cities being taken and re-taken).”

      Uh, are you familiar with the term ‘false equivalence’?
      You should read more about WWI before you embarrass yourself. Again.

      1. Do you think I was trying to support the whole operation with my comment? My point was that any big offensive move by either of sides shouldn’t be looked at as leading towards final victory, based upon the previous experience of combatants in that area.

  2. Perhaps I am misreading Obama.

    Let me be clear.

    I take responsibility for not making my explanation sufficiently simple.

  3. Someone should remind the President that America, its military, and its wealth belong to its people – not to the rest of the world, to Libya, or to big-hearted Barry.

    1. Someone should remind you, this whole wad of ideas you’re alluding to is now part of history past.

      1. No, it isn’t. Right and wrong is still right and wrong, and the passage of time has little to do with that.

        1. Not that I disagree with your sentiments at all. But right and wrong are right and wrong, and politics is politics.

          Sad truth is, there’s no necessary link between the two that’s hardwired into the universe.

          Given events under our last two presidents, I’d say utter disconnect has been completed. They, and congress, show no remorse at doing things that are clearly against the popular will.

  4. So basically, interventions are OK when the President says they’re OK.

    For all you TEAM BLUE idiots defending this, I can’t wait to hear you squeal when the next Republican president does exactly what your guy is doing.

    1. You’re right, I can do exactly as I please.

    2. Are you suggesting they don’t hold the moral high ground? It is an essential trait of theirs to hold the high ground, and they fight tooth and claw to retain it, or at least its social illusion. For without it, they are exposed as just a bunch of dirty hippie thieves.

      1. But…but…they’re the moral ones! And the smart ones! Not because they actually are, but because they say they are, of course.

        TEAM RED also does this, but not nearly so desperately.

        1. Your ideas are so new and refreshing!

          1. You’re dickless.

    3. I can’t help but think that pretty much everything Barry O. says is something that Bush the Younger said about Iraq, minus the “troops on the ground” thing. International mandate, coalition of the willing, support of local governments. The only real difference is that Obama thinks we can force hope and change from 20,000 feet.

  5. I’m confused as to what exactly the indicators were of this surefire humanitarian crisis. I’ve seen it postulated all over the place and everyone just seems to nod as if there was an established genocidal intent. Not sure how we were so sure.

    1. It’s just a rewrite of X number of jobs created or saved by TARP. This “successful” saving of all those lives will be the top talking point for the Dems from now through the next election.

  6. Pogue Obama: Son, all I’ve ever asked of my marines is that they obey my orders as they would the word of God. We are here to help the Vietnamese Libyans, because inside every gook sand-nigger there is an American trying to get out. It’s a hardball world, son. We’ve gotta keep our heads until this peace Constitutional craze blows over.

  7. How can anyone not cringe when reading the stilted, obfuscating language in that speech. “In this distant land…I refused to wait…”
    O fuck you, Barry.

    1. Probably wrote the speech himself this time. Should have gotten Ayers to write it for him.

      1. First one I think Obama wrote. Second one reads like it was ghosted by David Brooks. It has that tone of phony consideration of all counter point of views without really engaging the substance of the criticism of statist policy that is characteristic of Brooksie.

        For a perfect example read his obit to Uncle Milty (Friedman, of course!).

    2. “Once upon a time, in a magic land far away…”

  8. “In that case, P + U + A = Humanitarian Intervention.”

    It’s about costs versus benefits.

    1. It reminds me of the forumla for GDP:

      Investment + Consumer Spending + Government Spending + Exports – Imports = How propserous we all are!!!

      I mean, it’s fucking absurd when you think about it. Especially when you realize that a significant amount of government spending is handed over to consumers – so they can spend more.

      1. Considering the US has had to live off of deficit spending the last 54 years, it appears that evaluations of our prosperity are rather overblown.

  9. Ken Shultz|3.29.11 @ 11:35PM|#
    “In that case, P + U + A = Humanitarian Intervention.”
    It’s about costs versus benefits.”

    Bull………..
    Shit.
    Tell your crap to those who died, asshole. I’m tired of reading your lame “justifications”.

    1. Who cares what you’re tired of?

      Anyway, it’s not about justification.

      Libya costs a hell of a lot less than doing something like this somewhere like Syria, and that’s one of the reasons we’re doing this in Libya rather than somewhere like Syria. The benefit side of the equation is better too.

      The suggestion that we shouldn’t take factors like cost and benefit into consideration is childish.

      Explanations aren’t necessarily justifications–and I’m not saying that’s necessarily the way it should be.

      I’m saying that’s the way it is.

  10. BTW, I was just about to ask where a post is from that idiot who claims trading Libyan lives for supposed Arab street-cred is a great idea.
    Hey, presto!

  11. You rang?

  12. Michelle and Hillary have been pressuring me to reinstate the draft.

    1. I would not be at all surprised if that were true. And even if it isn’t, it won’t be long before someone is urging it.

  13. Much like Bush and Saddam, Obama is just seizing an opportunity to remove someone the US has wanted to be rid of for a long time.

    On another note, I admit to not following Lybia much (I’m more focused on Fukushima), but is there really a lot of evidence that Ghadaffi was about to engage in some kind of genocidal slaughter of his own people?

    I’m sure his forces have been attacking rebels, but have they been executing civilians en masse or something?

    1. He said he was going to go house to house and alley to alley to kill all the traitors. That there would be no mercy…yadda yadda. He said this while bombing and moving in heavy military forces.

      No reason to believe it was not a credible threat…he likely would have killed a lot (more/of) people before it was over.

      I don’t support our involvement, but the threat wasn’t made up.

      1. And of course, we always take Quaddafi at his word. He would never exaggerate for effect or to rally his supporters, would he?

        1. He would never exaggerate for effect or to rally his supporters, would he?

          Yes he would. Be he has never shied away from killing people. No reason to think he’d start now.

  14. To put it another way, we have a mandate to bomb countries if some group of foreign governments wants us to bomb them.

    1. Only if it’s a select group of Western European countries.

  15. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

    Translation: “We thought this was going to be really easy, so we went ahead and did it.”

    Not exactly a ringing justification there.

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    2011-3-30 15:54:16

  17. Has Obama considered the carbon footprint of his Libyan intervention??

  18. We knew that if we…waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the worldthe world financial markets would have collapsed, leading to economic chaos and possibly, hives. THAT is why we must implemen TARP now.

    See, it really does work for every “emergency”.

  19. “U equal the unique ability to stop that violence”

    I’d add to the list of factors that determine the value of U the proximatity to Western Europe or to the sea.

    All other things being equal, the chance we’d intervein in Libya is much greater than Sudan or Rwanda.

  20. It was not in our national interest to let that happen.

    Still waiting for an explanation of how our national interests would be adversely affected by Gaddafi killing Libyan protestors.

    Be sure to distinguish how they are not affected by Assad killing Syrian protestors, and the mullahs killing Iranian protestors.

    Libya costs a hell of a lot less than doing something like this somewhere like Syria,

    Doing something like what? I suspect that Tomahawks cost the same regardless of who you shoot them at.

    The problem with any kind of cost/benefit analysis is that we don’t have any idea what our goal is, and thus what the benefit would be to us, or how to reach that goal, and thus what the cost would be to us.

    1. Channel-surfing last night, I ran across some lefty a-hole arguing that we had to intervene in Libya so that the violence there wouldn’t spill over to Tunisia and Egypt.

      He appeared to be sincere. Where do they get such people? (That’s a rhetorical question of course.)

      I’ll repeat what I said about ten days ago: this is about keeping the oil moving out, and the Libyans in.

  21. oment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a uni

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