Thursday, March 29, 2012

Iraq vs Libya - the Obama doctrine

Protest in Kansas City against GaddafiLast election cycle was the first one where I actually got out there, did research, and tried to make an educated decision about my vote. Perhaps the most transformational thing I digested was really understanding what a President could and couldn't do. I said again and again that the President of this country actually has comparatively little power to do most of the things that we expect him to do. His largest area of power and responsibility? Foreign policy.

So, with my vote for Obama, I was supporting Obama's promised policy which, in the words of Real Clear Politics, "Envisioned an American foreign policy that was less militaristic, less confrontational, and less-unilateral than that of his predecessor."

Has it been so? Here is an over-simplified comparison of the two conflicts that Bush and then Obama spearheaded US involvement in.

Iraq:
  1. US-led invasion and US responsibility for remaking Iraq.
  2. Some Iraqis supported the US and some were against, making for a brutal and long stabilizing process by the US as they struggled to build a government  from nothing. 
  3. Estimated cost of Iraq war was $6.2 billion per month. Afghanistan is estimated at $6.7 billion per month.
  4. Invasion discouraged by our own weapons inspectors and the UN and decried by several of our allies.
  5. Nearly 9 years between invasion and withdrawal .
  6. Over 110,000 killed, including 4,400 Americans.

Libya: 
  1. US never claimed central role or asserted itself as the main player, but supported the revolution via covert ops and through NATO air involvement.
  2. The war and the ousting of Gaddafi was primarily a Libyan action - a society taking responsibility for changes they wanted to see. 
  3. Estimated cost for the complete Libyan intervention is $1.1 billion, which is less than one week of the cost of Iraq or Afghanistan.
  4. Intervention authorized by the UN, approved by the Arab League, and requested by the Gaddafi opposition. The US participated as a part of NATO.
  5. The entire civil war lasted less than 1 year.  
  6. Around 30,000 killed in the civil war, including 3 American journalists.

I know, I know. My husband says this is comparing apples and oranges, and perhaps that's true. Iraq was an invasion, Libya was a civil war. We were involved in Iraq because it was supposedly a security threat to us (hmmmm), and we were involved in Libya to support a revolution overthrowing a dictator.

Despite this, I think that are still some points to be drawn here. Obama has chosen to support internal movements of change rather than to externally force change. Obama has been applying a consistent philosophy of foreign policy that is, in my opinion, fantastic. He looks for self-led change and regional support for external involvement. In doing this he minimizes our death toll and financial risk while still encouraging healthy democratic change and decreasing international security problems.

I'm with Thomas Friedman, who says:
In Libya, Obama saved lives and gave Libyans a chance to build a decent society. What they do with this opportunity is now up to them. I am still wary, but Obama handled his role exceedingly well.... So let’s be clear: Up to now, as a commander in chief in the war on terrorism, Obama and his national security team have been so much smarter, tougher and cost-efficient in keeping the country safe than the “adults” they replaced. It isn’t even close, which is why the G.O.P.’s elders have such a hard time admitting it.

 There are other areas where I've been less comfortable with Obama and even with some of his foreign policy actions, but Libya is illustrative of exactly what I like about Obama's approach.

1 comment:

Rach said...

Interesting. I agree with Isaac that obviously the comparison can only go so far, but that doesn't mean you can't draw a few conclusions. The numbers in and of themselves are noteworthy when faced with the GOP's claims about the administration's spending.

I especially appreciated that list of things the President can and cannot do. Thanks!