If President Barack Obama submits his intervention in Libya to Congress for its approval and he was still Senator Barack Obama, he would vote against his own use of force resolution.
Obama has taken the first step into quicksand and will find it impossible to extricate himself. He has been lured by center-right governments in the UK and France to embrace the cause of saving Libyan civilians, a fight he probably cannot accomplish without ground troops and likely cannot win without regime change.
Bush-43 spent six years trying to convince us that Iraq was not another Vietnam. Now Obama is trying to sell the idea that Libya is not another Iraq. But, of course, it is. In both cases, we face a hostile dictator who, with his political and military cronies, has made a good living by abusing his own people. Even if Gadaffi goes, his clique is as likely to trigger a guerilla war as Saddam’s did in Iraq. And, in both countries, we intervene as a foreign power, distrusted by the population. And, in each case, we face a nation where the crowded cities and the vast open spaces around them make guerilla war highly possible.
Add to this mix that Obama took the action consulting only with the U.N. Security Council, not the U.S. Congress. He, even now, refuses to send a war powers resolution to Congress.
He begins the war with only 51% approval for the intervention among Democrats. A Democratic president cannot sustain popular support for a war by relying on Republicans. Obama is setting in motion the same forces that toppled Humphrey and Johnson in 1968 and Hillary in 2008. He is betraying his political base and will pay for it at the polls.
In President Clinton’s move to the center of 1995-1996, he took care to cave into the demands of Jesse Jackson to preserve affirmative action, despite the president’s personal preference to make it gender and racially neutral. He did so precisely to avoid a primary fight so that he could accommodate the Republican Congress on domestic policy and budget issues without worrying about his left flank.
Obama has cut no such deal with the likes of Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. If Obama stays in Libya, Kucinich probably gets into the race. If Obama continues to stay, Kucinich will move up in the polls.
At the very least, Kucinich’s challenge will hamper Obama’s attempts to move to the center since complying with Republican demands for spending cuts will enrage his liberal constituents. At the most, Kucinich’s candidacy will attract funding and credibility and become a serious political movement. Can’t you see Michael Moore hopping on board?
How did Obama get embroiled? It started with European pressure on Hillary. The Secretary of State did not like being the odd-woman-out as the European club berated the U.S. for failing to protect Libyan civilians. Never mind that they let the Kurds get gassed by the hundreds of thousands and the Rwandans get exterminated by the millions. Now, the European establishment was determined to act.
Hillary, obsessed by the desire to fit in, came out – in private – for military action and, together with Samantha Powers and Susan Rice, convinced Obama to act. The subtext of this decision was that the president couldn’t sit back and let slaughter proceed in Libya and have his 2008 presidential runner-up chaffing at the bit to stop it, always with the threat of leaks and, eventually, going public and resigning.
So now the escalation begins. From no-fly zones enforced by bombing to no-drive zones for armor policed from the air. From protecting civilians to ousting Gadaffi. From toppling a regime to stopping a civil war.
There is a strong isolationist wing in the Democratic Party. It is not like the isolationists of the right who see nobody as worthy of our support. It is based on those who say that we should tend to our own needs before we go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy” (words of John Quincy Adams). Obama used them to get nominated. Now Kucinich will use them to rob him of his base.