Obama Hurries Home As War Opposition Grows
“The American people and the United States have an interest, first of all, in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people, and saying he will show no mercy and go door-to-door and hunt people down and we have the capacity under international sanction to do something about that, I think it’s in America’s national interest to do something about that”
-- President Obama in a press conference with El Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes.
President Obama is cutting short his visit to Latin America by a half day as political pressure mounts at home over the U.S. intervention in the Libyan war and the president’s objectives.
Obama, who has previously held that American presidents do not have the legal authority to deploy troops in the absence of an imminent threat to the nation, made his first effort Tuesday to tie the ongoing bombardment of Libya to U.S. national interests.
Obama outlined a new threshold for American military intervention saying that when there is “international sanction” that it was in the national interest “to do something about” a “brutal dictator” who is “threatening his people.”
While Obama has not gone so far as members of the British government to suggest that the new standard for intervention could mean eventual military strikes against other dictators, like those in Sudan, Zimbabwe, North Korea and elsewhere, it is a dramatic step in American foreign policy.
While President George W. Bush argued for a “forward strategy of freedom” that he said would bring peace and stability to the Muslim world and thereby reduce the terror threat against the United States, Obama is arguing that the U.S. has an interest in protecting oppressed people as a defense of international law.
Obama highlighted the particular value of such interventions in the Middle East, where he said America would gain by enforcing the “basic rules of the road” for foreign rulers.
This new doctrine differs from direct humanitarian aid under military protection, a la Somalia, or the suppression of atrocities or ethnic cleansing, a la the Balkans, and moves into the concept of new enforceable standards for international law.
But while the president’s foreign policy critics are already howling about the inconsistencies of such a policy and suggesting that it would make the U.S. military the handmaiden to the U.N., such considerations will have to be addressed a far piece down the road.
But before anybody starts bombing Robert Mugabe, Obama’s primary concern is quelling the political dissention that has grown over his decision to attack Libya without congressional authorization or a clearly defined mission.
Democrats and Republicans are complaining bitterly about the costs, objectives and means of the war. The rationale offered by Obama in El Salvador – the first such explanation offered anywhere – will do little to appease lawmakers.
A pair of Hill aides scoffed to Power Play about a briefing held for staffers by the administration in which they were introduced to an “ambassador” from the rebel forces who heralded the liberalism and erudition of the Cyrenesian revolutionaries and downplayed the involvement of Islamist groups.
“I kept waiting for someone to say ‘we will be greeted as liberators,’” said one Republican aide in reference to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s line about the 2003 Iraq invasion. “It was pure spin, and not very good spin at that.”
Whatever the new doctrine now being forged by the president’s Libya incursion, Obama seems far more interested in ending the U.S. leadership of the air war against Qaddafi before Congress reconvenes on Monday so that his critics’ complaints will be made moot.
One question Obama will not be able to avoid, though, is the cost of the effort – already stretching into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The president said Tuesday that the costs can be “built in” to the Pentagon budget, but the funds will have to come from somewhere and will make it harder for Congress to find the deficit reductions members are seeking.
Qaddafi Defiant as Makeshift Alliance Debates Definition of Victory
"This assault ... is by a bunch of fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history,"
-- Col. Muammar Qaddafi in a speech in Tripoli followed by fireworks in the Libyan capital as crowds cheered and supporters fired guns into the air.
President Obama said Tuesday that Muammar Qaddafi may “hunker down and wait it out” through U.S. attacks on Libya and that Obama’s call for regime change in Libya may take a protracted blockade and diplomatic isolation.
On the same day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. was encouraging the dictator to explore his options for leaving Libya now and paving the way for a new government there.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, reiterated its steady assertion that its mission would be complete as soon as Qaddafi’s air power and air defenses were wiped out and Libyan forces had pulled back from a handful of rebel strongholds. The reiteration came as British officials refused to rule out deploying ground troops and said that the purpose of the military strikes was to force Qaddafi from power.
At the same time, key allies in the ad hoc coalition formed to attack Libya defined their goals differently. Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have made clear that their involvement will be strictly limited to humanitarian relief, not flying missions or dropping bombs.
With so much confusion about the nature of the mission and the potential outcomes of the current American air war, there will be fresh confusion as Obama looks to hand off leadership in the fight to either Britain or France.
French and Turkish officials didn’t want the war to fall under NATO command for fear that it would seem like Western aggression against a Muslim state, so the idea is to use NATO’s military apparatus but to have a temporary alliance that includes Qatar and other non-European nations be the ostensible umbrella for the attacks.
These distinctions may seem insignificant, but as Russia, China and others ramp up pressure over what they see as a new standard for international interventions, there is a lot of pressure on Europeans and Obama to show non-western involvement.
Obama’s worsening political situation at home means that the handoff needs to happen quickly, likely this weekend, and for the U.S. to play a subordinate role in the conflict going forward.
But Qaddafi, sitting on stacks of gold and supported by his own tribesmen in the civil war, now sees the path to survival in exploiting the international divisions over the campaign. If the much predicted stalemate occurs, Qaddafi knows that the international will is likely not present for an invasion force to root him out.
While Obama says Qaddafi can be slowly edged out of power after a stalemate, the leader of 42 years must like his long-term chances to retake power and establish his tribe’s dominance yet again.
Given European dependence on Libyan oil and fear of terror reprisals, there will be strong support on the Continent for letting bygones be bygones.
Yemeni Civil War Could Test New Obama Doctrine
"Those who want to climb to power through a coup should know that things won't stabilize. The nation won't be stable, it will turn into a civil war, to a bloody war, so they should think carefully"
-- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh
The Yemeni army has fractured, with the units loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh arrayed against those loyal to the longtime head of the nation’s military, Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar.
Yemen was no great shakes on unity before. Ahmar had led his troops in a years-long campaign against Shiite separatists backed by Iran and allied with al Qaeda. The American-backed effort, supported with airstrikes and logistical backing, had seen limited success in keeping the poor, isolated nation from sliding into deep disorder.
Now that the Shiite separatists have been bolstered by protesters in the streets, the pressure on Saleh to leave has mounted. He has promised to rule only until year’s end, but his general corps, seeing the writing on the wall, has joined the protest movement and hopes to form a junta modeled on the one now ruling Egypt.
But, Saleh has his own tribes and his version of a Republican Guard. If fighting breaks out and the civil war deepens, the U.S. will be under intense international pressure to intervene against its former ally as it has against Muammar Qaddafi in his tribal clash in Libya.
On Obamacare Anniversary, Republicans do the Celebrating
“When challenged about these broken promises, the administration has settled on a new refrain. The president likes to say Americans aren't interested in revisiting the debates of the past. No one would accept an answer like that from an electronics store manager who refused to offer a refund on a defective television. Why would they accept it when it comes to their health care?”
-- House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell writing in an op-ed in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer.
One year ago today, there was a partisan pep rally at the White House of a kind not usually seen. An all-Democratic group packed the East Room to see President Obama sign the health care law they had labored on for 14 months.
Vice President Joe Biden stole the show by calling the law a “big…” you know what and the Democrats treated the president to a rousing chorus of his signature “Yes, We Can” mantra.
It was a gory bit of triumphalism, but Democrats likely felt they deserved a bit of a party given the legislative ordeal they had just survived and the political disaster already being forecast for them in November.
Today, though, Democrats are saying little about the still unpopular law and certainly not doing much chanting. Part of the problem has been a steady stream of unhappy discoveries about the president’s signature law – cost increases, missed targets, needed waivers, etc.
On Friday, the Congressional Budget Office revised their cost estimate for the first 10 years of the president’s law, adding $100 billion to the price tag on insurance subsidies for low-income earners. That program is now pegged at $1.13 trillion.
The finding came as part of a revised CBO deficit projection for the coming decade. The White House said last month that the president’s 10-year plan would mean borrowing another $7.2 trillion. The CBO said it would be more like $9.5 trillion.
Republicans are the ones chanting today, working hard to remind voters about the massive law and the ways in which it has already fallen short.
UAW Has Ford in its Sights
"If they don't restore everything [union workers] gave up, the membership is going to knock it down. The bonuses that were just announced are just ridiculous."
-- Bill Johnson, leader of the United Auto Workers Local 900 at the Ford Focus plant in Wayne, Mich., talking to UPI.
The United Auto Workers now has an ownership stake in two of America’s Big Three automakers, and at union’s meeting in Detroit this week to discuss the pending expiration of the industry-wide contract there is little love being heard for the third member. Ford’s Blue Oval is looking more like a bull’s-eye these days.
The Obama administration inserted no-strike clauses into the labor contracts of GM and Chrysler during the 2009 government takeover and reorganization of the bankrupt carmakers. As part of the bailout package, the unions agreed not to go on strike against the companies when the current contract expires.
But since Ford remained an independent company, it has no such protection.
All three automakers won considerable concessions from the unions when the current contract was negotiated three years ago – shifting bonus payments to cover healthcare costs, reducing the starting wage for new workers and freezing wages at the $28-per-hour average for existing employees.
Under those terms and with a series of sales successes like its new Explorer, Ford has roared back to profitability. Despite carrying massive debt that its competitors saw wiped out as part of the Obama-UAW deal, Ford has been a marked success story.
The union, though, is moving this week toward the end of all of the givebacks in the previous contract and the restoration of the wages and benefits deemed unaffordable before. Citing executive pay and growing profits, labor leaders are particularly angry at Ford’s success.
This sets up some interesting questions: Can a union that partially owns two car companies shut down a competitor without violating anti-trust laws? Can a federal government that is in partnership with the union in owning two car companies be trusted to resolve a dispute at a competitor’s operations?
And the biggest question of all: can Ford endure a strike without following its competitors into bankruptcy and federal control?
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I think this is an extraordinary spectacle, the president of the United States who is announcing in the middle of the war that he initiated -- nothing happened until he moved last week after three weeks of dithering -- that the United States no longer wants to be the leader. He said explicitly in El Salvador, the phrase used was ‘we will be a player,’ but like any other player.”