Opinion » Ted Rall

A War Not To Believe In

Why won't Obama explain his third war?


NEW YORK--U.S. forces fired 110 cruise missiles at Libya on the first day of the war. Each one cost $755,000 to build and $2.8 million to transport, maintain and shoot. Austerity and budget cuts abound. Note to union negotiators: The government has lots of money. They're spending it on war.

For people too young to remember Bosnia, this is what a violent, aggressive, militarist empire looks like under a Democratic president. No one believed ex-oil man George W. Bush when he said he was out to get rid of the evil dictator of an oil-producing state. President Barack Obama, the former community organizer, gets a pass under identical circumstances. But Obama is not a dictator. He can't declare war. And while he might be able to lie his way into one, he and his party will pay at the polls if he fails to explain why we're attacking a nation that poses no threat to the United States. Obviously, we're broke. How can we afford this? Also:

1. Whom are we helping? The United States and its allies are destroying Libya's air force in order to tip the balance in the civil war in favor of anti-Gaddafi forces. A similar approach, aerial bombardment of Afghan government defenses, allowed Northern Alliance rebels to break through Taliban lines and enter Kabul in 2001. It could work again in Libya.

But who are these anti-Gaddafi forces? What kind of government will they establish if they win? What are their ideological and religious affiliations? If anyone in the media or the White House knows, they're not telling.

2. Does Gaddafi have the right to defend himself? From Shea's Whiskey Rebellion to the Confederacy to the Red Scares to the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, the U.S. government has violently suppressed armed rebellions. How then can the United States claim moral authority to prevent other governments from doing the same thing?

3. What about self-determination? If the Libyan people overthrow Gaddafi, that's great. Shouldn't that struggle be a Libyan matter, to be settled between Libyans? Isn't a government that emerges from indigenous internal struggle more likely to enjoy widespread support than one that results from outside intervention?

4. Why are we OK with some dictators, but not others? Since the Middle East began blowing up, we've heard a lot of talk about Obama's dilemma: How do we reconcile American values with American strategic interests? Ideology and policy must be consistent to be credible. If we have a policy to depose dictators, then all dictators must be targeted. We can't just take out those in countries with lots of oil. We ought to start with tyrants for which we bear responsibility: authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Yemen and elsewhere.

5. Is Libya our geostrategic business? The United States has no substantial historical ties with, innate cultural understanding of, or geographic proximity to Libya. Even under the imperialist doctrine of "spheres of influence," Libya falls under the purview of other would-be interventionists. Italy, and to a lesser extent Britain and France, are former colonial masters. The Arab League and African Union have interests there. Even if you buy the argument--"Are we going to stand by and watch Gaddafi slaughter his own people?"--why us? Why not the Africans or Europeans?