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Obama’s Imperial Adventure


President Obama’s entry into Libya’s civil war can be criticized on many levels: The mission as explained is incoherent; Congress was not asked for a declaration of war as the Constitution requires; events in Libya do not affect the security of the American people; bombing another oil-rich Muslim country aggravates the conditions that create anti-American terrorism; killing innocent civilians is nearly inevitable; the rebels’ motives are unclear; mission creep happens; war unleashes unforeseen, uncontrollable forces; the government is already deep in debt, and more.

All these objections are valid — and any one of them should have been enough to scotch the plan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was right when he expressed reluctance to intervene in Libya.

Consider the operation’s incoherence. Obama originally said this strictly aerial engagement would last a matter of days and is aimed only at saving civilians from Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s air attacks, but is not intended to drive him from power, although the president says he “has to go.” But won’t Qaddafi simply resume his attacks when the Americans and their allies leave?

The obvious illogic masks lies and a hidden agenda. The U.S.-led force has not only attacked the Libyan air force and air defenses; it has also struck ground forces and military facilities. Even Qaddafi’s compound was hit. We were told this would be a no-fly zone only, but it is so much more.

Are we being lulled into another open-ended war?

The humanitarian rationalization for intervention is tissue-thin anyway. Innocent civilians and resisters of oppression are under siege in many countries all around the world. Why single out Libya, whose head of state has been a U.S.-financed ally for the last several years? Obama’s defenders dismiss that question, saying that the U.S. government’s inability to intervene everywhere is no argument that it shouldn’t intervene anywhere. But that misses the point. Where the government chooses to intervene is revealing. Oil might have something to do with it.

It should also be noted that the man who launched this “humanitarian” operation is the same man who for more than two years has been bombing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as claiming the authority to order the assassination of American citizens and to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial. In this topsy-turvy world, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The president and his advisors of course are not as scatterbrained as this operation suggests. They have more in mind than they are telling the American people, whom they fear are suffering war fatigue. That would explain the emphasis placed on the approval of the Arab League, the UN Security Council, and NATO, which is an American tool. NATO’s Supreme Commander, Europe, Adm. James Stavridis, is an American. Make no mistake: despite participation by Britain and France, this is a U.S. operation. Nor should we be impressed that a group of Arab countries run by autocrats beholden to the U.S. government asked for intervention against an erratic head of state they have never liked. It should be noted that Saudi Arabia has troops in Bahrain defending the dictator-king against rebels there.

A U.S. military intervention dressed up as a humanitarian action by the “community of nations” is nonetheless a U.S. intervention. Obama should not be able to get away with this exercise in militarism.

And what’s behind it all? It’s same old story of American global hegemony. As George H.W. Bush put it, “What we say goes.”

What Americans should worry about is a U.S. government free to roam the world, carrying out the ruling elite’s agenda of political and economic aggrandizement. Americans pay homage to freedom, but they cannot be free under these circumstances. When Washington, Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams warned against an imperial foreign policy, they understood that it would require a government of unlimited power beyond the scrutiny and control of the people. (That’s why WikiLeaks scares the hell out of the imperial overlords.) If Americans mean what they say about liberty, they will insist on a dismantling of the U.S. empire.

Decent people of course do not want to see dictators killing people. However, expecting the U.S. government to right all wrongs will not only fail; it will also create a whole new set of wrongs at home and abroad.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.