The U.S. President finds himself trapped in a war he didn't want to fight, with the 2012 elections already on the horizon. A European perspective on fast-moving events in Washington, and beyond.
WASHINGTON - The Commander-in-Chief is under fire. Critics spent the week ganging up against Barack Obama's Libyan strategy. He's accused of getting into a war he says he isn't waging. Of hiding behind a divided coalition that he's incapable of leading. Of pushing America into another military trap while being vague about the operation's goals. Of overstepping his constitutional powers in bypassing Congress. Much of this criticism is exaggerated and contradictory, despite being partially based in fact. But most notable about the hits Obama is taking is that they are bipartisan. Agreement between Republicans and Democrats proves how much Americans are worried about the consequences of an intervention that the country took part in purely for humanitarian reasons, and under heavy pressure from the French and the British.
There is a moral consensus on this approach in a country filled with the remorse of its elite, which stood by during the Rwanda genocide. But this support could falter at the first sign of trouble. Republicans were quick to jump on the opportunity, attacking Obama's multilateral approach, as the President announced an imminent transfer of leadership of operations to NATO. Declaring that the US would be just another partner in the coalition has sparked outrage from those who believe in American exceptionalism.
"Barack Obama would love to be the Belgian Prime Minister, he's scared of leading his own country," says Daniel Pipes, a Middle East specialist and conservative blogger. The White House justified its multilateral approach as both a way to insure the legitimacy of operations and to limit the strain on a US military already heavily invested elsewhere.
Former National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski counters that multilateralism, in itself, is a positive development. "Why should Europeans always follow the US? Why should the US always lead?"
The other major criticism is about the military mission's lack of definition – and cost -- in a country that is not necessarily a strategic priority. Others are asking for more audacity, calling on the Administration to explicitly state as its ultimate objective the ouster of Gaddafi, not just the protection of civilians. "The goal must be to prevent the bloodbath, not just reschedule it," worries Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, warning of a possible "Somalia" if the dictator refuses to step down.
The Obama Administration is striking back, saying it played a leading role but talking about a "limited operation." Already criticized for his softness during Iran's "Green Revolution," Obama doesn't want to look weak, to be a "Carter." Truth be told, the White House isn't thrilled about a new military venture. Washington has more important things on its plate, from Egypt to Bahrain, from Syria to Yemen, and of course Iraq.
And then there are national politics with 2012 looming. Obama was hoping to spend the rest of his term as Commander-in-Chief of the battle to rebuild the nation's economy, not a "general" maneuvering in the Libyan sands. A rational character who hates to improvise, Obama finds himself trapped in Libya playing a game he didn't want to play in the first place. He may seem hesitant and prone to compromise. He is also in tune with Americans who are tired of endless wars. The latest poll released by the Pew Research Center shows 47% of registered voters say they would like to see Barack Obama reelected, while 37% say they want a Republican.
Photo credit - (U.S. Army)