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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sorry Mr. President, I'm Not Convinced

George Wenschhof

I sat riveted to the chair, as I listened intently to the "not-so-prime-time" speech delivered by President Obama on the events unfolding in Libya.

At 7:30 PM ET, the speech did not preempt any regularly scheduled programming and thus did not meet the status of prime time. Perhaps, a subtle move by the Obama administration to lessen the spotlight on yet another U.S. military engagement lacking clarity of purpose.

The president looked awkward as he did his best to read the teleprompter and display strength of conviction as he often would wag his finger, as an exclamation point, to the reasoning he was attempting to convey.

His words were purely Bush-like, including a reference which sounded eerily like the justification for invading Iraq, when Obama said "...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."

A substitution of the words "weapons of mass destruction" or "don't wait for a mushroom cloud" for "the images of slaughter and mass graves" and President George W. Bush could have given this speech.

Too many times, in my lifetime, has misguided purpose and lack of long term vision with an exit strategy, driven U.S. military intervention.

Beginning, when I was a teenager and U.S. advisers were sent to Viet Nam. The trumped up Gulf of Tonkin resolution followed, which led to a lengthy and costly, both in lives and money, U.S. military intervention.

Listening to the man who rightfully campaigned against the U.S. rush to invade Iraq and the quagmire that followed, attempt to justify the U.S. military action in Libya was difficult to process.

Once again, serious discussions are underway on the U.S. providing arms to a group of rebels - this time in Libya. Arms alone are unlikely, unless accompanied by advisers. And, so the process goes on...

Syria, Bahrain and Yemen are among other countries experiencing an awakening in addition to the mostly peaceful ouster of President Mubarak of Egypt. None of which have received overt U.S. military intervention, to date.

Further clouding the intervention in Libya is the unanswered question as to who is leading the rebels. Ironically, reports have indicated some of the rebels are jihadists and members of al-Qaeda who fought against the U.S. in Iraq.

Unlike in Egypt, where the military never relinquished control, while agreeing to phase in democratic elections, the end game for Libya is a complete unknown. Replacing an autocratic government will not be an easy task and international aid will certainly be necessary.

Perhaps, a February 16, 2011 New York Times article which has received little media follow up, offers some clues to this new Obama foreign policy doctrine.

Mark Landler writes " President Obama ordered his advisers last August to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world, which concluded that without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt, administration officials said Wednesday."

The secret report, known as the Presidential Study Directive, has yet to be presented.

In another excerpt from the article, Landler writes "Whether it was Yemen or other countries in the region, you saw a set of trends" — a big youth population, threadbare education systems, stagnant economies and new social network technologies like Facebook and Twitter — that was a "real prescription for trouble," another official said.

A fascinating read by Landler and one which begs the question, why is the current unrest such a surprise and one which did not receive proper response planning by the Obama administration.

The George W. Bush administration settled on the need to promote democracy in the Middle East as their justification for invading Iraq. This came after no weapons of mass destruction were found and the removal of a despot never gained enough political support to justify the U.S. intervention.

Interestingly, today it appears, a move to a more democratic Middle East is underway.

Why did the U.S. intervene in Libya and not Bahrain, Syria or Yemen? Most likely, the answer is simple - because it could. International support is a very hard lift for intervention in the other countries and unfortunately for Muammar Ghadaffi, he has no international friends.

Meanwhile, the covert international chess game, more real, intense and troublesome than the board game RISK, continues.

Stay Tuned...


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