Evaluating Obama’s Actions On Libya

First, some said President Barack Obama wasn’t acting quickly enough. Some conservatives, such as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham voiced complaints on national television, effectively calling for the president to take immediate action on Libya. There was also concern that Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s troops were gaining the upper hand and pushing back hard on Libyan rebel forces. Oil prices were, and are still, increasing.

Then, Obama acted. There was international consent for the most part, with Arab states calling for a no-fly zone and with England and France joining the United States in carrying out Tomahawk missile strikes over Col. Qaddafi’s palace this past weekend. But approval had not yet been won in the States.

Consequently, many returned the criticism in the aftermath of military action on the part of the United States, and this time, it was from both parties.  President Obama overstepped his authority, conservatives said. Obama, in carrying out an act of war against Libya, was going against his erstwhile objective of actually disengaging the United States from war. Some people just didn’t know what was going on when they opened their web browsers or newspapers on the morning of Sunday, March 20.

While it is true that Obama should have consulted Congress and announced plans to the American public, there seems to have been only a small window for action this past weekend. Whatever action he was to take would not only be a message to Qaddafi, but would be, in many ways, a response to calls for action from the national front. Obama made a choice and took the chance. No one can deny that tension had steadily been mounting, as reflected by Obama’s most recent statements before the air strike when he made clear that Qaddafi would have to go. With rebels being pushed back, Obama decided to enforce this policy by carrying out air strikes.

There is something to be said about the fact that he didn’t carry out such actions alone. England and France were united with the U.S. in the recent military actions. There was already international clamor for someone to lend that helping hand to Libyan rebel forces. Obama’s decision cannot be considered outside the context in which it was made Đ when citizens of other Arab states were actively rebelling against their governments.

But the question naturally remains: are we in a place to lend a helping hand when so many are economically suffering in the States? There is no easy answer to this question. It may be true that the decisions of the Obama Administration should be tempered by consultation not only with Congress, but also with the American people. But Obama had to make a tough choice without the luxury of time. There is no way to tell whether this decision will change the outcome for struggling Libyan rebel forces.

In hindsight, we might look back at executive decisions to enter into international military forays with regret, but this does not mean that every case will prove to be the same. There are certainly not a few examples of situations when the United States did not interfere when now we think we should have.

And yet, there are still other cases where some feel we interfered when we should not have. It is often difficult to know exactly what will happen in calculating risks. Even with respect to Iraq, whether the benefits outweigh the costs is unclear.

If you ask Iraqi citizens now, undoubtedly a significant portion will admit to now enjoying a greater freedom than during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. If you ask an American citizen now, struggling unemployed in the aftermath of the 2008 market meltdown, he or she might say it matters less what happens hundreds of thousands of miles away than what troubles his or her own community.

While both are valid points, I believe we must consider whether more people are dying from loss of economic stability than are from loss of freedom and in this way determine whether one could indeed have avoided coming to the same conclusion put in Obama’s position.

Yvonne Bang is a fourth-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at bangy@uci.edu.