Air Assault, Rhetoric on Libya Intensifies

COMMENTARY | Low-flying U.S. aircraft including A-10 Warthogs and C-130 gunships began to pound forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi as the no-fly zone to protect Libyan rebels intensified March 28. The Washington Post reports the assault on pro-Gadhafi forces has gone beyond the original no-fly zone and now includes openly attacking supply lines and ground troops. The aim is to give an edge to Libyan rebels as they attempt to topple a 41-year-old regime.

Apparently a no-fly zone wasn’t enough to quell Gadhafi’s rage against the uprising. What started as an armed revolution is embroiling European allies in a standoff against a despotic leader that may have ramifications beyond Libyan borders.

The U.S. has to ask itself why it got involved in Libya and not other crises around the world. The answer is how this military action came into being and the kind of threat Gadhafi poses to opposing forces. The U.N. Security Council and the Arab League asked for assistance, plain and simple.

The intensified struggle for Libyan independence from its leader comes as President Obama gets ready to address the American people to explain why U.S. forces became embroiled in what is rightly called an internal Libyan struggle. Many politicians, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have asked the president to clarify his position as to how long the United States will be involved in Libyan affairs.

“Will America’s commitment end in days, not weeks, as the president promised? What will be the duration of the non-combat operation and what will be the cost?” McConnell asked to Politico. “The president made clear that our combat forces’ role in Libya will be limited in scope and duration.”

McConnell echoes his party in criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of the Libyan crisis and why we are getting involved in this particular case. One concern is because our own military is already on active duty in two other countries and our national budget is already burdened with massive debt.

Obama’s speech to explain his position helped clarify to the American people and critics why we are there and the scope of our involvement. Obama began by paying tribute to soldiers who work hard to secure our freedoms and touting countless lives have been saved.

He also went on to say we have a responsibility to act, based upon the cries for help from the international community. The United States will transfer command of the operation to NATO beginning March 30, 2011, taking our responsibility to a more humanitarian effort. Obama also made clear that regime change is a mistake and the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in such a way.

Obama has read his recent history–it’s not our place to go in and replace despotic leaders like Saddam Hussein unlike his predecessor. The GOP didn’t question George W. Bush until it was too late. It’s been mere weeks into the Libyan conflict and there are already questions about why our military got involved.

It seems pretty clear. There was a massive outpouring of assistance asked for by several entities with a stake in Libya’s future. Our involvement in Iraq was much more muddled. There was false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Instead of taking more time to ponder the intel and then acting more appropriately, Bush sent in troops without direct provocation and with the approval of Congress.

Iran has the capability of nuclear weapons. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also has a much more advance military. Had the world gotten involved in Iran, it would have been much worse. The scope of Iran’s problems would have been much greater than those of Libya and the world hasn’t gotten involved.

The fact that NATO is taking over should be good enough for Republicans who criticized Obama for waffling or sidestepping questions about what was going on. No ground troops will be in Libya under command of the Pentagon. After Gadhafi’s forces are beaten back, humanitarian aid will be the major focus of the United States.

Another important aspect of this operation is Europe has given broad support to the United States’ and United Nation’s involvement. Unlike invading Iraq, which was done against the U.N.’s authority, President Obama has done what was consistent with international consensus.

Republicans should be satiated that our intentions in Libya are clearer than they were in 2003 when we invaded Iraq. The purpose of our troops was clear against Hussein’s forces–a full-fledged regime change. Obama has learned the lessons of history and recognized this is not the point of our forces in Libya.

No one said getting involved in Libya would be easy. But because so many people in the international community asked for help, it was the right thing to do in this case.

William Browning is a research librarian specializing in U.S. politics. Born in St. Louis, Browning is active in local politics and served as a campaign volunteer for President Barack Obama and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.