What’s the difference between Obama’s Libyan war and neoconservatism?

David Rieff
The New Republic

Well, that was quick! It usually takes some time for the gap between how a White House justifies a military adventure to the public, and the reality of what is really going on to be revealed. It took the fall of Saddam Hussein for the Bush administration’s pretext for war—the threat of weapons of mass destruction—to be shown up as a fabrication. But from President Obama’s televised address on the evening of March 29, in which he claimed that the intervention in Libya was not about regime change, to the Reuters story revealing that he had signed an order allowing covert U.S. operations in Libya at least a week before the speech, and possibly longer, took—what?—24 hours. And so in we go to Libya, as both neoconservatives and liberal interventionists have been pressing for all along.

In his speech, the president insisted that there was no comparison between Iraq and Libya, and that broadening the U.S. military mission “to include regime change would be a mistake.” In reality, of course, that is exactly what Washington has done. President Obama made much of U.N. sanction and the multinational nature of the no-fly zone, and boasted that the United States had now handed over the lead role to our “allies and partners in NATO.” But this is disingenuous nonsense. From a military perspective, NATO without U.S. military assets is not a particularly redoubtable force. It is true that, politically, the French government pressed hard for more aggressive military moves to support the Libyan insurgency. But despite President Obama’s assertions to the contrary, the overwhelming preponderance of bombs, missiles, and bullets fired at Colonel Qaddafi’s forces have been from U.S. ships and aircraft.

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