Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Winning a Wizard-of-Oz War

It’s all over but finding Qaddafi, yet freeing Libya leaves not only all kinds of questions about its future but a dizzying dissatisfaction over exactly how a ragtag rebellion morphed into a fighting machine that stormed into Tripoli and brought down a heavily armed regime with such apparent ease.

The superficial answer is air power, with NATO and particularly France leading the way, but there must be more to it than that. Why is there a lingering sense of “Wizard of Oz” revelations to come about what was going on behind the curtain?

How deeply involved were NATO and the U.S. in providing armor, organization and direction for rebels who began rising up with none of the above?

And more to the point for Americans, even without “boots on the ground,” exactly how much of our resources were committed by the White House without consultation with or agreement by Congress?

Hardly anyone, except his potential 2012 opponents and the John McCain gang, will deny the President’s deftness in dancing around the legalities of our role in bringing down a ruthless dictator but, for those already troubled by scope of American involvement in a Middle East morass, what does success in Libya portend for easing out of commitments there that are dragging down our own economy?

Such questions fall far short of Ron Paul’s certitude about getting out entirely, but they suggest an issue that should be seriously discussed in the presidential campaign but is more likely to appear in gotchya sound bites.

E. J. Dionne applauds the President’s dexterity in being aware of “the difference between middle-ground policies, which flow from his natural instincts, and soggy, incoherent compromises with opponents who will say he’s wrong no matter what happens.

“Obama used the greater freedom he has in foreign policy to define the middle ground in the Libyan case on his own terms. ‘It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs,’ Obama said in March. ‘But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.’”

But he may also want to stay alert to what can happen when the “Wizard of Oz” curtain falls and the man handling the levers is in plain sight.

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