Start with what's true and what's not.
President Obama was forthright last night in telling Americans and the world why we must intervene in Libya. One might disagree with his decision, but who could doubt the evidence he used to build his case of opposing a bloodbath? It was everywhere before our eyes.
This was not true of Bush and Iraq eight years ago. The comparison is odious. The reasons he concocted for going to war did not pass the sniff test. Bush and Cheney told the world that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that he was giving them to terrorists, that we would be greeted as liberators. They hinted broadly that Saddam was in on 9/11.
None of it was true.
Now, if my friends on the right want to believe Bush/Cheney uttered such things in good faith, then go ahead. Still, these were somebody's lies, manifestly obtained through bribery, torture and other manipulations.
A man code-named Curveball claimed ownership of some of the lies just last month, freely admitting he made up his claims about chemical weapons and more.
Years ago, the New York Times, Newsweek and a handful of others reported--back on pages 10 and 12, where it wouldn't offend people in high places--that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was tortured into saying Saddam intended to deliver WMDs to terrorists. Al-Libi later recanted. Several of us in independent media online started a movement to make al-Libi famous and let the chips fall. The idea was that we would march on Washington carrying banners featuring one word: Al-Libi (which means The Libyan) in an effort to spark more interest in the lies that got us into Iraq. That's when al-Libi died mysteriously in a Libyan prison, supposedly by his own hand. Our movement fizzled as we tried to make sense of what had happened, and how losing our best potential source would affect our efforts.
The other stooge who fed the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld (and yes, Rice and Powell) war machine was Ahmed Chalibi. He led the chorus about how we'd be greeted as liberators. A real piece of work, Chalibi. Google him sometime.
I say all that to say this. To compare the situation in Iraq and Libya is to obfuscate. To contrast them is to clarify.
Had armies of pro-democracy rebels been marching on Baghdad; had Saddam been in the process of bombing hell out of freedom fighters, and had blood been flowing in the streets, I might've given Bush the benefit of the doubt in Iraq. But nothing like that pertained when we bombed, invaded and unleashed ethnic passions, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the dislocation of millions.
Libya is manifestly different.
There, armies of pro-democracy rebels are on the march. Gaddafi made it plain that he would bomb them then hunt down and kill every last rebel supporter. There would be no mercy in Libya. Thousands would've been murdered in the streets and in their beds by Libyan air strikes and door-to-door home invasions in Benghazi alone.
So, to hear a nightly drumbeat on MS-NBC about how we should stay out of Libya is disillusioning. While their case is defensible, it's hardly inspiring. What happened to our high idealism regarding basic human rights for the downtrodden?
Meanwhile, Fox News endlessly loops rants from the right. Whatever happened to their mantras, Support the Troops. Close Ranks, Troops Are in Harm's Way. Anyone, early on, who dared criticize the war in Iraq could expect to be shouted down or kicked out of the Fox studio by Bill O'Reilly, Shawn Hannity and their ilk. After all the revelations of lies, corrupt contracts, torture, and massacres, how dare they uphold a double standard on this, now?
Let's get real. Neither the war in Afghanistan nor the war in Iraq were about saving innocent lives in those countries. Yes, Saddam was a terrible dictator, but there were no armies of opposition marching on his strongholds. No banners in public squares. Those days were past. Moreover, United Nations inspectors in search of weapons of mass destruction were on the ground. Libya is different in every way that counts.
Having said that, I worry about the war in Libya.
I wonder whether President Obama sought to "dialogue" with Gaddafi, and if he did, just what was said. Isn't it possible we could've bought Gaddafi off with the right combination of threats and bribes, for the cost of, say, a dozen cruise missiles? Lives might've been saved. I'll walk this far with Dennis Kucinich. We need a Department of Peace to study creative alternatives to war, a department with a broader perspective, even, than the State Department.
I worry about the president's assertion of authority to launch military action without express Congressional approval, just as I worry about the precedent he's setting. What will we do if power elites in Syria or Bahrain threaten to do what Gaddafi threatened?
Obama gave a good speech--and while I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt in Libya--his position falls short of setting forth an Obama Doctrine, and that's what's needed. Maybe it's time to help pro-Democracy youth throughout the Middle East throw off their chains.
Just maybe. It's an idea fraught with peril and moral hazard. Obama is right to tiptoe up to such perilous waters and take a good, deep look before diving.