Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Decider-in-Chief speaks

We all probably heard something that fit our predispositions, listening to the President speak about his Libyan war tonight. My predisposition is simple: I've nearly reached retirement age. In my lifetime, no U.S. war has lived up to the moral billing offered by its supporters. Most -- Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan -- have been dreadful, immoral quagmires. The few brief ones (think Grenada, Panama) have been shameful atrocities built on lies. I'm hard to sell on wars.

In truth, the President sounded like his predecessor speaking tonight -- the one who said told us baldly, "I am the Decider." Here's Obama:

I made it clear that Gaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead, and I said that he needed to step down from power. ...

I ordered warships ...

I refused to let [a potential massacre] happen ...

I authorized military action ...

And as President, I refused to wait ....

... I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe. And no decision weighs on me more than when to deploy our men and women in uniform. I have made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally...

Being Commander-in-Chief ("CoC" in military speak -- "Cock of the walk" I usually hear) seems to have this effect on an incumbent president.

Historically, though we usually look back with fond pride on my parents generation's war, on World War II, some decider has just about always plunged the country into wars without the consent or enthusiasm of much of the population.

President James K. Polk led the country off to conquer much of Mexico; in response, Henry David Thoreau famously refused to pay his taxes and much of the Northeast was in near revolt. When President William McKinley coveted Cuba and the Philippines from the decaying Spanish empire, it took the best efforts of William Randolph Hearst's newspapers, the Fox News of that day, to whip up a war frenzy.

President Woodrow Wilson's 1917 war in Europe was so unpopular that the government preemptively outlawed speaking against it and imprisoned several thousand people for that crime. Even in the case of the "good" WWII, there was a quite widespread conspiracy theory that President Franklin Roosevelt allowed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in order to bring the US into the war on Hitler and Hirohito.

We don't easily rush to war if we actually deliberate about it. It takes the work of a decider to move a fractious democratic nation to war. We have such a one; he announced it tonight.

Let us hope this war is brief; that minimal numbers of people are killed; and that the hopes of Libyans for a freer, safer, better life are realized. I'd like to believe this war would be different, that everything would work out as the current Decider claims it will. I can distrust the likelihood of good outcomes and still hope.

But nothing in my lifetime or knowledge of past U.S. wars suggests that good will come of this adventure.


Anonymous said...

Ya I saw the speech last night. He tried like the dickens to sound all authoritative and moralistic. You can always tell what someone is trying to hide by the way they are trying to hide it. His is inadequacy. So he has to present himself like a make lion, all in charge. I think the difference between Bush and Obama is Bubba. Bush is a good ole' boy from Texas, a Bubba, and he talked like one. Obama just knows how to dress his Bubba up with slicker language.
Eh that's my take on last night's speech for what it's worth.


Belisariusorb said...

As you remember, I was all in favour of the US decision to join the other NATO powers (France and the UK) in enforcing a no-fly zone. Without any doubt a massacre in Benghazi was averted. The NFZ and its extension of attacking Gaddafi's heavy weapons has been a great success... so far.

But I'm highly alarmed at the talk coming out of Washington today that they're "not ruling out" (read: actively considering) arming the rebel forces with US weapons. The French are definitely unhappy with that idea.

And in any case there's no evidence that the rebels are short of weapons or ammo, what they're short on is military training and discipline.

Nothing can remedy that in the short term, but arming them to the teeth can only be counterproductive in this struggle - though of course beneficial to US arms manufacturers, which is perhaps the point.