Why No One Likes Obama's Libya War

A lot of folks didn't get the peacenik president they planned for. And he still hasn't quite sold Americans on why we should be taking sides in Libya's civil war.


With all the flak Obama was taking a week ago for his go-slow approach on Libya -- and all the phony bouquets for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of the crisis -- you might have been tempted to think that she was the one who had green-lighted missile strikes on Muammar Qaddafi, and Obama was the senator who had once voted to invade Iraq with no provocation and no exit strategy.

It's an irony lost on the "do something" caucus that hounded Obama for weeks while he pressed for the approval of the U.N. Security Council, Arab League and NATO before striking in Libya.

Sarah Palin demanded "less dithering." Rudy Giuliani said that "Hillary Clinton would have been better." Newt Gingrich called Obama the "spectator-in-chief" before Obama committed to the mission, then flip-flopped and said, "I would not have intervened." And after U.S. missiles had already started hitting Libyan targets last weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Obama "unnervingly indecisive," quipping, "I'm glad we're finally doing something … thank God for strong women in the Obama administration."

You can trace it all back to Clinton's own "3 a.m." riff. She was the first one who tried to paint her boss as a weak-kneed dove and not the president who wound up doubling down in Afghanistan.

Which is how the debate over the U.S. role in the U.N. mission got so skewed. A lot of people weren't prepared for Obama to come out shooting.

Going split-screen with air strikes and a high-profile trade mission to Brazil was the kind of impassive, all-business play that is more often associated with China's leaders, not ours (even if China is just waiting around to lock up oil leases in Libya -- no matter which faction ultimately wins).

The Arab League, accustomed to condemning Western intervention in the Middle East, came hat in hand, petitioning for a strike against one of its own members. French pilots, usually on the ground, blew up the first Libyan tanks. The British, nothing if not ever ready, worried about running out of missiles.

Anti-war Democrats have teamed up with paleo-cons to challenge the president's legal authority to act in Libya -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) says Obama could be impeached for striking without congressional approval -- while Republicans in Congress are getting out-hawked by Obama, with even House Speaker John Boehner eschewing partisan rhetoric by sending the president an unimpeachably businesslike letter asking for the "scope, objective, and purpose of our mission in Libya, and how it will be achieved."

And the Congressional Black Caucus is split along the same lines. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is in the "dithering" camp; progressive Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), CBC chair emeritus, is against the strikes; and Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), on the Africa subcommittee, reluctantly backs Obama.