President Obama’s speech last night was fine as far as it went, which was not very far: Qaddafi was about to wipe out a lot of citizens, so we had to act fast; a lot of people told us we could do it, so we did it; we avoided a humanitarian crisis – mission accomplished; now others can take over.
But the crisis ten days ago was actually not a humanitarian crisis but a strategic one: you don’t declare Qaddafi “must go” (for violating the Obama Doctrine that leaders who wage war on their people lose legitimacy), declare that his violence is “unacceptable” — and then stand by doing nothing as he wipes out all opposition. It sends a very bad signal to other dictators and – much worse – makes other countries whose policies you have also declared “unacceptable” conclude you will eventually accept them too.
One wishes his speech had omitted his now familiar trademarks: (1) the false false-choice (some say we should do nothing; others say we should do everything; but I say …); (2) the prosaic let-me-be-clear moment; and (3) the relentless use of the vertical pronoun:
I am grateful … I made it clear … I said he needed to step down … I ordered … At my direction, America led an effort … I refused to let that happen … I authorized … And tonight I can report … I said … I am fully confident … I want to be clear … I refused to wait … I will never minimize … I am convinced … I, along with many other world leaders … I assigned our forces … I will never hesitate … As I have said before … etc.
The action – approved at the last possible moment, following a painful period of dithering, avoiding what would have been a foreign policy humiliation – was better than the speech, and deserves support. But the KMA has not yet been won, and will not be until regime change is achieved.